WHISTLER’S PIGEONS AND PEACOCKS

The Peacock Room, London 1892, photo by Lemere, V&A

The Peacock Room, London 1892, photo by Lemere, V&A

A small dinner party was held by Whistler on 1 November 1877. This is confirmed by Whistler’s purchase of fresh cod from John S. Charles, a Pimlico fishmonger, on that date. The guests included the architect and surveyor Tom Layland and his wife, and ‘Mr Godwin’ by which Whistler presumably meant the architect Edward William Godwin. 

By this time Godwin was designing a new house for the ambitious painter, a house on Tite Street where he could entertain guests, hold parties and  concerts, and have a studio where both he and art students could work, as well as a fully functioning modern kitchen. Whistler had just finished working on the famous dining Room now known as the Peacock Room in Frederick Leyland’s house at Princes’ Gate- and had fallen out irretrievably with his patron. This, plus the expenses of the new house were factors in Whistler’s bankruptcy in the following year – and, indeed, to the survival of the fishmonger’s bill, for Charles was among Whistler’s creditors.

However, the November dinner party had a straightforward hearty menu suited to the season:

Potage aux poireaux

  Cabillaud –

     Pigeons –

       Côtelettes d’Agneau –

         Mince Pies –

        Macaroni –

Café –

This comprises a starter of leek soup, a simple fish course of cod, then either pigeons or lamb cutlets as the meat course, and two deserts, mince pies and macaroni, followed by coffee. It is surprising that Whistler does not mention any sauces,  although plain boiled cod could perfectly well be served with melted butter. Let’s hope they were using young pigeons ‘pigeonneaux’ and not elderly London pigeons!

Savoy Pigeons, Lithograph, 1896

Savoy Pigeons, Lithograph, 1896

Escoffier records a very simple dish: ‘Pigeonneaux à la Bordelaise‘ which I have adapted:

1 pigeon per person.

Ask the butcher to remove the heads if you think it will put your guests off.

Cut the pigeons in half, flatten them, season with salt and pepper.

Fry them in butter (not too much, an ounce should do, about ten minutes a side.

That’s it!

Plate showing birds, including pigeons, from Mrs Beeton, 1888

Plate showing birds, including pigeons, from Mrs Beeton, 1888

 I’m amused by Mrs Beeton’s illustration, with the poor little pigeon waving its legs in the air, at lower right. I think this plate might turn one into a vegetarian. So my next blog had better be the leek soup!

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About mfmmacdonald

I am an artist and art historian, and my research is focussed on the work and life of James McNeill Whistler. Based in the School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, I am Director of the Whistler Paintings and Etchings Projects. These blogs are informal, and, I hope, interesting and even quirky discussions of individual works and events related to Whistler.
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