Whistler's original title is not known. These are the only known variations:
'Portrait of Major G. W. Whistler (2)' is the generally accepted title. It is numbered (2) to distinguish it from another portrait of Whistler's father, Portrait of Major G. W. Whistler (1) [YMSM 028].
A head and chest portrait of a man, in vertical format. He has dark hair, and is seen in three-quarter view to left, but looking at the viewer. He wears a white starched shirt with modest collar, a broad black cravat and a black jacket, against a black background.
George Washington Whistler (1800-1849), Whistler's father.
It may be that this was a copy of a photograph or painting of G. W. Whistler. The only reference to Whistler having attempted a portrait of his father was in 1859 – Portrait of Major G. W. Whistler (1) [YMSM 028].
Portrait of Major G. W. Whistler (2) could be remotely based on the portrait of Major Whistler by Charles G. Crehen (1829-after 1891), and therefore tentatively identified with Portrait of Major G. W. Whistler (1) [YMSM 028], but it varies from Crehen's portrait in several details. The sitter is facing a different way, his head is at a different angle, being seen more from above, he is smiling, and details of his suit are changed.
A portrait by Chester Harding (1792-1866), George Washington Whistler, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 63.5cm, came to the University of Glasgow (GLAHA 54134) with the bequest of Whistler's great-nephew Joseph Whistler Revillon (1886-1955) in 1955. 3 The Freer Gallery website comments:
'The Freer's oil portrait of Major Whistler most closely resembles another portrait, made by Chester Harding (1792-1866), and now in the collection at Glasgow University. From about 1840 until 1842, Major Whistler and Harding were neighbors in Massachusetts. Harding painted Major Whistler during this time. He also allowed his student W. S. Elwell to copy his portrait of the major. The Freer's portrait is not by Elwell. But Harding himself frequently made replicas of his own paintings, and it is possible that this portrait was executed by Harding rather than by the son of the sitter.' 4
There is some doubt as to the authenticity of this portrait. It is not wholly consistent with Whistler's work. 5
There is a reference to Whistler having done a 'copy' of some painting for William Richard ('Dick') Suydam Palmer (1834-1870) in 1857, but that was probably a copy of a picture in the Louvre or the Musée du Luxembourg. 6
1: 9th Annual Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1904–1905 (cat. no. 308).
Last updated: 20th October 2020 by Margaret