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

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Whistler Smoking

Titles

Suggested titles are as follows:

  • 'Portrait de Whistler' (1904, Duret). 1
  • 'Portrait of Whistler with hat' (1908, Pennell). 2
  • 'Whistler Smoking' (1913, Gallatin). 3
  • 'Whistler Smoking' (1921, Pennell). 4
  • 'Whistler Smoking' (1980, YMSM). 5

'Whistler Smoking' is the preferred title.

Description

Whistler Smoking, Private collection
Whistler Smoking, Private collection

A head and shoulders portrait in vertical format, showing a young man with dark, curly, bushy hair, and a neat dark moustache. He is in three-quarter view to left, with his hand holding a cigarette at left. He wears a dark jacket over a spotted cravat loosely tied round his neck. A flat, wide brimmed straw hat with a dark ribbon, sits on his head at a sharp angle from left to upper right.

Albert Eugene Gallatin (1882-1952) described it in 1913:

'Head and shoulders. Face, which is turned to left, is seen in three-quarters. A straw hat, about which is a grey ribbon, is perched upon the artist's long, black, curly hair. The painter wears a black coat, and about his neck is a loose black scarf with white spots. In the right hand, which is just indicated, is a cigarette; smoke issues from his mouth. The background of the portrait is dark. The face is rather carefully modelled, the rest of the picture freely painted.' 6

Sitter

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). This portrait may be the same as Self-Portrait [YMSM 008].

In appearance Whistler looks a little older than his earliest etched self-portrait, Portrait of Whistler [5], which dates from 1857. Both show him smoking, despite dire warnings from his mother, who wrote to him in 1856:

'A sad warning of the evil effects of smoking I could tell you, but I forbear[,] you know my Son how I have tried to impress my boys to avoid every leading to vice or debauch. My daily prayer is that you may "keep to innocency." ' 7
Carjat & Cie, J. McN. Whistler, 1864, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/95
Carjat & Cie, J. McN. Whistler, 1864, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/95
Carjat & Cie, J. McN. Whistler, 1864, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/96
Carjat & Cie, J. McN. Whistler, 1864, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/96

Later photographs by Etienne Carjat (1828-1906) show Whistler with a much less bohemian appearance. 8

Comments

According to A. E. Gallatin, Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) refused to comment on the authenticity of this self portrait, but it was accepted by Gallatin and Théodore Duret (1838-1927):

'M. Theodore Duret, who viewed this portrait in my company in Paris, June, 1913, told me that in his opinion the painting was unquestionably from Whistler's brush. He put the date at about 1862. Mr. Joseph Pennell, to whom I showed a full-sized photograph of the portrait a month later, declined to express an opinion regarding its authenticity without seeing the original. He would place the date, judging by the artist's appearance, three years earlier than M. Duret. I regard the painting as being in all probability a work of the master and have therefore catalogued it as such.' 9

The Pennells condemned the portrait as 'a clumsy attempt to imitate Whistler in the Big Hat, as well as the etching of the same subject'. 10 However, they seem to have based their judgment on the published reproductions of the painting. In spite of uncertainties of style, this does seem to be a vivid self-portrait of Whistler in the late 1850s.

Notes:

1: Duret 1904 [more], p. 7.

2: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, repr. f. p. 190.

3: Gallatin 1913 A [more], pp. 2-3, 17-18 (cat. no. 2).

4: Pennell 1921C [more], repr. f. p. 29.

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 9).

6: Gallatin 1913 A [more], pp. 17-18.

7: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 23 September 1856, GUW #06476.

8: See MacDonald 2015 [more], p. 1.

9: Gallatin 1913 A [more], pp. 2-3.

10: Pennell 1919 B [more], p. 52.

Last updated: 25th November 2020 by Margaret