Notes & News. The Academy Saturday 2 Sept
Mr Whistler who is about to start for Venice, has lately been employed in decorating the dining room of Mr Leyland's house, Princes Gate. The furniture of the room has been designed with special purpose to display a valuable collection of blue and white porcelain arranged upon the walls in a light and graceful framework of carved wood & Mr Whistler's decoration has accordingly been so planned as to give support to the effect of the china & at the same time to assure a coherent and independent Scheme of its own. Upon the ceiling, which is covered with a uniform [p. 2] Ground of Gold, divided by light wooden Groinding[sic], the Artist has painted in deep blue, an ornamental design, representing in sufficiently conventional character the plumage of the Peacock. In the pannels [sic] from which are suspended a series of glass lamps, he has presented the large eyes of the bird's
eye fan combined with every variety of curving lines that meet and intersect with a delicate & ornamental effect. By the side of these pannels are others in which the lighter and softer plumage of this bird's breast is represented, and this two fold scheme of ornament is repeated on a smaller scale, in the double cove which serves as a cornice to the room. Here the breast plumage takes the appearance of an ordered design of blue powdering upon the gold ground, [p. 3] but this conventional and purely ornamental character is secured without sacrificing the living suggestion of the bird's feathers. The execution is ordered but by no means mechanical, and there is room beneath the fixed features of the design for a free and varied treatment of details. For a space beneath the cornice the wall is covered with stamped leather, the original pattern of which has been modified & enriched by the introduction of a fair primrose tint into the gold. This serves to bring the different golds into relation, and carries the Eye to the pannels beneath, where upon the lighter ground the same pattern of plumage is repeated. The gold of the door pannels & window shutters, and is [p. 4] similarly treated, and upon the inside of the shutters, so as to occupy the space of the windows at night, the artist has painted full sized representations of the bird itself, the disjected members are as if here collected, and the life of the design impressed by images of the living Peacock.
It will be seen that in this scheme of decoration, Mr Whistler has trodden upon new ground, and has essayed a very interesting experiment in a branch of art where tradition is too apt to exercise extravagant authority -
Dated from reference to the Peacock Room (see below).
2. The Academy
Anon., 'Notes and News,' The Academy: A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art, new series, vol. 10, no. 226, 2 September 1876, p. 249.
JW did not leave for Venice until September 1879, when he was commissioned by the Fine Art Society to make twelve etchings, Mr Whistler's Etchings of Venice, 1880 (the first 'Venice Set') (K. 183-189, 191-195). He was planning to travel to Venice with the money received from Leyland for the finishing touches of the dining room; see Lochnan, Katharine A., The Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1984, p. 181; and MacDonald, Margaret F., Palaces in the Night Whistler in Venice, Aldershot, 2001, pp. 15-17.
5. Mr Leyland's house
In the summer of 1876 JW worked on the decorations of the house owned by Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more], at 49 Prince's Gate, London. The decorations of the dining room became Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (YMSM 178); see Merrill, Linda, The Peacock Room. A Cultural Biography, New Haven and London, 1998. See also AMW to JW, 11 July 1876, #06559, and AMW to E. M. H. Eastwick, 19 July 1876, #12635.