Mystery surrounds the origin of a maple cabinet designed by Edward William Godwin and painted by James Abbott McNeill Whistler which has been bought by National Museums Scotland (NMS).
The museum curators will now carry out further research to find
out whether the item - entitled Harmony in Yellow and Gold -
The Cloud Cabinet - was made for the 1878 Paris
Exposition Universelle, for Whistler's Godwin-designed White
House or for another project/collaboration between Godwin, Whistler
and William Watt Art Furniture.
The cabinet was purchased from Michael Whiteway of Kensington
Church Street dealers Haslam and Whiteway (British 19th century
design). The acquisition was made possible by funding from the Art
Fund and the National Museums Scotland Charitable Trust, although
NMS would not disclose how much was paid.
An NMS spokeswoman said: "The object is hugely important in the
history of 19th century art and applied arts. In the style of the
Anglo-Japanese Aesthetic movement, the cabinet is the result of an
artistic collaboration between Godwin, an influential designer of
the Aesthetic movement, and Whistler, the most controversial and
celebrated painter of the Aesthetic movement.
"The cabinet has a William Watt Art Furniture label and carries
Whistler's signature design motif, the butterfly. The vendor
purchased the item from descendants of the previous owners who
purchased the cabinet in 1947 from the estate of Edward Hussey
It will be displayed in Edinburgh, in one of four new galleries
currently being designed to showcase NMS's collections of art and
design. These spaces, along with six new galleries of science and
technology, comprise the £14m next phase of the masterplan to
Whistler's work on this cabinet is almost identical in style to
some of his painting on the Harmony in Yellow and Gold: The
Butterfly Cabinet 1877-78 which is also in Scotland,
housed in the collections of the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, and
in the Peacock Room he redecorated, on show in the US.
The Hunterian's cabinet was bought at Christie's on October 4,
1973, with support from the National Fund for Acquisitions and the
Art Fund. It formed Godwin's centrepiece at the 1878 Paris
Exposition Universelle. Whistler painted this
fireplace/cabinet and the flanking dado and wall.
The Peacock Room, now housed in the Freer Gallery of Art at the
Smithsonian in Washington, was originally designed by architect
Thomas Jeckyll for British shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, who
wanted a place to showcase his blue-and-white Chinese porcelain
collection in his London home. Whistler redecorated the room in
Whistler designed his own studio-house in Tite Street, Chelsea,
known as the White House, in collaboration with Godwin. But its
construction and furnishing coincided with the Ruskin libel trial
in autumn 1878. The trial's expenses drove Whistler into bankruptcy
and resulted in the forced auction of many of his possessions and
the sale of the White House, where he lived for only one year. The
house was demolished in the 1960s.
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