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The Sea at Pourville (No. 2), near Dieppe, France

Not on view

The Sea at Pourville (No. 2), near Dieppe, France

Artist: James A. McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903; active Europe, after 1855)

Date: 1899
Medium: Oil on wood with an original "Whistler style" frame
Overall: 5 1/2 x 9 1/4in. (14 x 23.5cm)
Framed: 14 1/4 x 18 x 1 1/2in. (36.2 x 45.7 x 3.8cm)
Signed: Lower left: [butterfly signature]
Credit Line: Museum Purchase with Funds from the Charles E. Merrill Trust
Object number: 73.114
Label Text
American frame design followed two different stylistic directions in the second half of the nineteenth century. Conservative taste favored the molded forms and gilded finishes of earlier decades; whereas progressive designers and artists used simpler designs featuring flat surfaces, hand carved details, and natural or metallic patinas.

One of the most influential figures in reform style frame design was James McNeill Whistler. In Paris in the 1860s he began using a type of frame that has come to be known as the "Whistler frame." It is not clear whether the Museum's frame was made under Whistler's supervision or if it is simply a copy of his innovative design. In either case, the mitered corner joints are well crafted and oil gilding was applied directly on the surface so the wood grain would show through. The clusters of thin, machine-cut, reeded ornament are one of the most characteristic features of a Whistler-style frame. Another important feature, the broad, unornamented frieze, derives from 15th-century Venetian cassetta-style frames. In sum, the restrained profile and tonalities of this frame complements the subdued colors and flat, decorative quality of Whistler's painting.

The raised outer edge of the frame's fluted cove is crowned with a fish scale pattern that changes direction at the center of the top rail and near the top left and lower right stiles. The outermost edge is decorated with delicate foliate scrollwork over a reeded ground. White bole, which would have been applied to the ornament before gilding, is visible along the lower section of the frame where the gold leaf has been worn off, probably the result of an overly conscientious cleaning of the surface at some time. The frame's original bright, gilded finish can be seen along the bottom of the frame where a label that was originally affixed to the frame was recently removed.

Paul D. Schweizer
August 2010

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