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The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre (The Creditor) is a piece of revenge art.

In the 1870s, Whistler was commissioned to spice up the dining room belonging to shipping magnate Frederick Leyland. Leyland’s intention was to showcase a collection of Asian ceramics he'd acquired. The room is called the Peacock Room, as across the jade-colored walls and shutters are painted golden peacocks. After doing a poor job on the room, Whistler was fired. Born out of this was The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre (The Creditor), a painting depicting Leyland as a monstrously gangly peacock. Ouch!

It isn’t that simple though. The thing is, Whistler wasn’t the man Leyland hired for the job. Leyland sought out architect Thomas Jeckyll to complete the room. Jeckyll famously wanted Whistler’s advice on the color scheme because Whistler’s painting The Princess from the Land of Porcelain was already hanging in the room. Innocent gesture, one would think. Think again.

When Jeckyll fell ill and with Leyland away in Liverpool, Whistler took the reins. Someone ought to have monitored the artist though, because that’s when he added the gold peacocks. No, seriously. Golden peacocks. Whistler went above and beyond decorating the dining room. So far beyond that he went 2,000 guineas over budget. Whistler was proud of his work and showcased it to the media, even inviting friends and fellow artists over to watch him paint the space. This absolutely infuriated Leyland, who believed a private home should remain so.

Naturally, Leyland did not pay the bill and more or less told Whistler to sod off. Leyland went so far as to threaten Whistler with being horse-whipped if he stepped in the house again. This was PR damage for Whistler, who lost the interest of wealthy patrons. To top it off, Whistler nearly went bankrupt from severe debt. Unpaid and close to broke, Whistler ranted in a July 1877 letter that “It is positively sickening to think that I should have labored to build up that exquisite Peacock Room for such a man to live in!” 

Then The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre (The Creditor) is painted. Leyland’s collection of Qing dynasty ceramics are pictured in the portrait, surrounding his withered blue body. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a massive burn. Whistler has the peacock-man hunched over a piano with his ceramics and a music book. Written across the page of the music book is the painting’s title. The word ‘frilthy’ found in the title, combines the words ‘filthy’ and ‘frilly’. Yes, Whistler took poetic liberty to create a new word. It’s a twist on the phrase ‘filthy lucre’ which means ‘unclean gain,’ which first appeared in the King James bible.