The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Georges Petit, 1856-1920

Nationality: French
Date of Birth: 1856.03.11
Place of Birth: Paris
Date of Death: 1920.05.12
Place of Death:


Georges Petit was a Parisian art dealer. He was the son of François Petit, founder of a firm of art dealers at 7 rue St Georges in 1846. In 1877 Georges Petit inherited the firm, as well as a chateau and 3 million francs. He built himself a town house on the rue de Seze. His wife, children, mistress and shooting expenses amounted to 400,000 francs a year.


The gallery which Petit opened at 12 Rue Godot de Mauroy in 1881 was an popular alternative exhibitioning space to the official Salon. Petit made his private views into grand social occasions. He devised the series of Expositions internationales de Peinture, the first of which was held in 1882. These events attracted Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley, who held large retrospective exhibitions there in the 1880s and 1890s.

The Société internationale de Peinture was run on similar principles to the Grosvenor Gallery. Like the Grosvenor, it had an advisory body of artists (including Alfred Stevens, Raimundo de Madrazo and Giuseppe de Nittis), but in fact was run by Petit alone. Other artists such as Paul Baudry, Jean Léon Gérôme, Josef Isräels, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John Everett Millais, Ludwig Knaus and Adolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel were also involved.

Petit had begun buying Impressionist works as early as 1878, when he acted as expert for the Faure and Hoschedé sales. Petit held a number of auction sales on his premises, including the Narishkine collection in 1883, the Choquet and Doria collections in 1889 and Edgar Degas's studio sale in 1918–19. From 1881 the gallery was associated with print publishing and specialised in monochrome, very high quality reproductive engravings of paintings by contemporary artists such as Félix Bracquemond and Marcellin Desboutin. The gallery carried on after Petit's death, until 1933.

Whistler exhibited at the Exposition Internationale de Peinture held in Petit's gallery in 1883, exhibiting Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Bognor (YMSM 100), Arrangement in Grey: Portrait of the Painter (YMSM 122) and Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel (YMSM 169). He also participated in 1887, showing 50 small oils, watercolours and pastels. He had five paintings in the 1899 show and described their success to his sister-in-law Rosalind Birnie-Philip saying, 'Paris has gone simply wild about the 'Wistleer' group' (#04762). He also exhibited with Petit in 1901. Petit was also involved in the sale of a number of Whistler paintings including Gold and Orange: The Neighbours (YMSM 423), Rose and Brown: The Philosopher (YMSM 472) and Rose et or: La Napolitaine (YMSM 505).


Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Jensen, Robert, Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-Siecle Europe, 1994; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995, Whiteley, Linda, 'Petit', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 27 June 2002).