Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

Home > Catalogue > Browse > Portrait of Anna Denny <<   >>

Portrait of Anna Denny

Portrait of Anna Denny dates from 1855. 1 Whistler told his biographers, the Pennells, 'Before I left America I painted portraits of Annie Denny, my cousin, and Tom Winans.' 2

In April 1855, Thomas de Kay Winans (1820-1878) said that he wished to see the portrait on which Whistler was working in Baltimore: this was reported to Whistler by his mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), 'Mr Winans expresses great interest about the portrait you can invite him to judge of it when it is sufficient touched up!' 3 However, 'Annies portrait' was still unfinished when she wrote a few days later:

'I trust you will not be elated by Mr Winans invitation for your coming here to paint & so leave Annies portrait unfinished! he asked me at dinner when I returned here after 2 days absence if I had heard from you. I said yes a few lines … & your bulletin of health was you were only too hungry! … he said he had heard from you & had written to advise your coming to his house to exercise your talent, if you only would work!' 4

However, Whistler took advantage of the invitation, and worked on the portrait of Annie Denny at 'Alexandroffsky', Thomas de Kay Winans's opulent Baltimore villa. 5 In July 1855 Whistler's mother wrote to him asking if she could have this portrait, because it was his first work, and suggested that he should paint a duplicate for Winans: 'Remember I claim Annie Dennys as your first assay[,] if your Patron wants it & you think the Major would not be offended, copy it for Mr T Winans, but tell him I expect him not to interfere with my claim to that one. her Grandmother will be coming here to see it, so take care of it for my room.' 6 There is no record of Whistler having painted a duplicate portrait.

Although the painting has not survived, references to it were made by Frank Larned Hunt (1825-1903) in a letter written on 3 May 1855, shortly after the portrait was started:

'Now Jamie dear - Im going to please you - in this wise - Mrs Larned quite bored me talking of your 'Denny' she really & enthusiastically … thinks it the most beautiful picture she ever saw - in fact "King" cousin tho he is - is jerked off his throne … in fact this amiable lady wants you to copy a picture of her sister for her - run over some day & take dinner here - strike this hot iron - the 'Iron' by the way does not want Cousin Charles - to know of it - "Artists are so jealous".' 7

Mary Sherwood (Mrs Larned) (1805-1897), wife of William Larned, may have been the mother of Charles Troubridge Larned (d. 1882), known as 'Frank', a class-mate of Whistler at USMA, West Point, and, later, Deputy Paymaster General. Alternatively she may have been the mother of Charles William Larned (1850-1911), Professor of Drawing at USMA, West Point from 1874-1911. 'King' was Charles Bird King (1785-1862), portrait painter, and cousin of Mrs Larned.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 4).

2: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

3: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 19 April 1855, GUW #06458.

4: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 24 April [1855], GUW #06459.

5: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 7 May 1858, GUW #06496.

6: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 11 July 1855, GUW #06463. 'Grandmother' was Catherine Whistler (Mrs Hamilton) (1788-1874), Whistler's aunt.

7: GUW #02197.

Last updated: 13th December 2020 by Margaret