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

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Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland

Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland was painted at intervals from 1870 to 1873.

1870: The portrait was commissioned by the sitter, Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), and first mentioned by Whistler's mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), as being painted at Leyland's residence near Liverpool in August 1870. On 7 September she wrote that Whistler 'has been staying at Speke Hall four weeks. He is there to paint a full length life size portrait of Mr Leyland, which he writes me is getting on capitally.' 1 To another friend in America, she wrote:

'Speke Hall ... he has been there four weeks now & as he went for more than a mere holiday, to paint a life-size full length portrait of Mr Leyland his host he is to stay to finish that work. of course as his friend Mr L goes in & out to his business house in Liverpool daily, the Artist cannot confine himself to his Easel as he does too closely in his own Studio here.' 2

1871: In October 1871 the unfinished portrait was hanging at Speke Hall. 3

1872: It may have been among the '3 cases of portraits' saved from a fire on the train bringing Whistler's paintings from Speke to London, before sittings resumed in Whistler's London studio, as his mother recorded:

'I was tolerably well at the middle of Feb when Jemmie came home & resumed his work here. Lucy lost her father then & fretted herself ill, so that I had great exertions to make[,] Mr Leyland lunching with us while Jemmie had the favor of his posing.' 4

On 13 March Whistler's mother wrote that he hoped to complete it in time to send to the Royal Academy:

'We are in the pressure of the Season, & he begins work directly after our eight ocl breakfast regularly. he is perfecting the Portrait of Mr Leyland & trying to finish a beautiful life size of Mrs L, the pictures must be sent to the Royal Academy the 1st or 2nd day of April, though the Exhibition is not to be til a month later. I will not build castles or anticipate rewards to Jemie's diligence.' 5

Neither of the Leyland portraits were ready for exhibition that year, and Whistler's tolerant mother wrote that he was hoping to complete Leyland's portrait for exhibition at the Academy in the following year. 6 On 8 November 1872 Leyland described the sittings as 'my own martyrdom': 'I am glad you are working on the picture of the three Girls and I daresay your late work at life size portraits you will find has done you good and my own martyrdom not been in vain.' 7

Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland, Freer Gallery of Art
Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland, Freer Gallery of Art

1873: Alan Summerly Cole (1846-1934) recorded in his diary that the portrait of Leyland was in progress, '16 February. To breakfast off blue and white. His portrait of Leyland then in hand - saw it.' 8 Whistler's biographers, the Pennells, thought that it was completed in the winter of 1873. 9

1874: According to Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), who wrote that 'the head of Leyland is very like him', Whistler persuaded Leyland to subsidise a one-man show at the Flemish Gallery where the Leyland portraits, including 'Portrait, "Arrangement in Black" ', were exhibited. 10

1877: On 25 July, after the breakdown of relations between artist and patron over Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room [YMSM 178], Whistler wrote to Leyland:

'You say that during the whole of our acquaintance I "have never finished for you a single thing for which I have been paid" -

I have in my possession two portraits which, though publicly approved of, my own artistic scruples alone have prevented me from forwarding to you who are their owner - They shall be sent at once.' 11

Leyland replied, 'I quite appreciate your "artistic scruples" to deliver the two portraits which you consider finished and I must say these scruples are uncommonly well founded. I am however willing to receive them as they are.' 12 A few days later, on 29 July 1877, A. S. Cole wrote in his diary that Whistler had shown him the portrait, then still in the studio. 13

1878: On 20 January 1878 A. S. Cole said that Whistler had a 'copy of his portrait of Leyland' in his studio, but there is no trace of such a work, and it could actually have been this portrait. 14 Leyland's portrait was seen at Whistler's new house, the White House in Tite Street, by Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) at some time in 1878 or 1879. 15 Whistler wrote to Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832-1914) in February 1878 that he meant to deliver the portrait to Leyland despite Leyland's lack of appreciation.

'It is far from my wish to rob Leyland of any real right - whatever may be my opinion of his conduct - The portraits of himself and Mrs Leyland I have witheld [sic] because of certain remarks in one of his letters impugning their artistic value, and whereas I do not acknowledge that a picture once bought merely belongs to the man who pays the money, but that it is the property of the whole world, I consider that I have a right to exhibit such picture that its' [sic] character may be guaranteed by brother artists - therefore it was my intention to show, in a public exposition these two paintings this spring - and thereupon restore them to their chance purchaser.' 16


1: A. M. Whistler to J. H. Gamble, 7 September 1870, GUW #06545.

2: A. M. Whistler to M. G. Hill, [8-9] September [1870], GUW #07642.

3: A. M. Whistler to K. Palmer, 3-4 November 1871, GUW #10071.

4: A. M. Whistler to J. H. Gamble, 10 April 1872, GUW #06549.

5: A. M. Whistler to J. H. Gamble, 13 March 1872, GUW #06548.

6: A. M. Whistler to J. H. Gamble, 5 and 22 November 1872, GUW #06553.

7: GUW #02565.

8: Copy, GUW #13132.

9: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, pp. 175-77.

10: Letters to Ford Madox Brown, [autumn] and 31 May 1874, quoted by Doughty, Oswald and John Robert Wahl (eds.), Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 4 vols, Oxford, 1965-1967, vol. 3, pp. 1287, 1307; Mr Whistler's Exhibition, Flemish Gallery, 48 Pall Mall, London, 1874 (cat. no. 1).

11: 25 July [1877], GUW #02596.

12: 27 July 1877, GUW #02598.

13: GUW #03432.

14: Copy, GUW #13132.

15: Way 1912 [more], p. 29.

16: 2 February [1878], draft, GUW #06073; as sent, GUW #09577.

Last updated: 23rd April 2021 by Margaret