|F.R. Leyland's grade II listed tomb, designed by Edward Burne Jones, in Brompton Cemetery|
|Leyland by Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
In April 1876 Leyland, who was staying in Liverpool for an extended spell while the works on the new house were completed, asked Whistler for suggestions for the colour scheme for the almost finished dining room. As a result of this prompting Whistler began a series of adjustments to Jeckyll’s colour scheme, calling in two of his Chelsea chums, the former boatmen turned artists Walter and Henry Greaves, and setting them to work retouching the existing paintwork. As the work progressed Whistler grew more dissatisfied with the results and more ambitious in the scope of the changes he wanted. Jeckyll fortuitously fell ill and with Leyland still in Liverpool and the two Greaves brothers to help him there was nothing to stop Whistler completely altering the look of the room. By August he was telling Leyland that the room was all but finished apart from a ‘blue wave’ pattern he wanted to apply to the cornice and dado. The blue wave transformed itself into peacock feathers and spread across the vastly expensive antique gilt leather until the whole room had been painted cobalt blue with a design of golden peacocks. Walter Greaves warned Whistler that the blue paint they used discoloured very quickly after drying. Walter had had to rename one of his paintings of a girl in a blue dress, “Girl in a green dress” after experimenting with the same pigment. Whistler didn’t listen and today the Peacock Room is no longer the intended colour but a sort of verdigris. The artist was hugely proud of the completed room, so proud that he invited numerous friends around to Leyland’s unoccupied house and held impromptu parties to show it off, even inviting the press. Frances Leyland dropped in unexpectedly one afternoon to find dozens of people milling around her house and Whistler holding court in the Peacock Room where he dismissed a question from his audience about what his patron thought by saying what did the opinion of a ‘parvenu’ matter?
|"The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre" |
Whistler's satire on Leyland
In Leyland’s will he provided fully for Anne Wooster and her two sons, leaving her the income from £20,000 which was to be held in trust for the boys. To raise the capital for this bequest Leyland’s family were forced to sell his house at 49 Prince’s Gate and all it’s contents. The Peacock Room was left in situ when the house was sold to Blance Watney, the widow of a well known brewer. Blanche thought the Peacock Room was hideous and was about to have the fittings ripped out and thrown away when the artist W. Graham Robertson pointed out that they might be worth something. It took Mrs Watney a decade to decide what to do – in 1904 she finally disposed of it to Messers Obach & Co, picture dealers of New Bond Street for the staggering sum of 10,000 guineas to the American industrialist and collector Charles Lang Freer. Freer had the room dismantled and reconstructed in his Detroit Mansion where it served to display his own collection of oriental ceramics. It is now on permanent display at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.