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

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Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother


  • 1891: sold by Whistler and entered the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris;
  • 1922: transferred to the Jeu de Paume, Paris;
  • 1925: transferred to the Musée du Louvre, Paris;
  • 1986: transferred to the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

In February 1874 the portrait of his mother was in the house of the artist's brother, William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900) and barely escaped being seized by the Doctor's creditors. 1 According to the Pennells it was at one time hung in Whistler's bedroom at Lindsey Row, Chelsea, and was later with Jane Noseda (1814-ca 1894), print dealer and publisher in the Strand, London, who was prepared to sell it for £100. 2 However, on 10 April 1876 the New York Herald reported that Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother was safely in Whistler's studio. 3

In September 1878 Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother and Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder [YMSM 203] and two Nocturnes of Battersea were deposited by Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), on Whistler's behalf, as security for a loan from the print dealers and publishers H. Graves & Co. 4 The Pennells record that more money was advanced by Graves at Howell's request for a proposed portrait of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) and Graves was prepared to look on Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother as security. 5

In November 1878 Algernon Graves (1845-1922) retrieved 'Mrs Whistler' from the artist and proposed to exhibit the portrait at his premises at No. 6 Pall Mall, before sending it back to Richard Josey (1840-1906), who was to make a mezzotint engraving of it. 6 Howell organised the printing of a subscription form (signed proofs cost £3.3.0, lettered proofs £2.2.0, and prints £1.1.0) and the engraving was published by Graves. On 1 May 1879, 'In consideration of your undertaking all risk and expense in the matter of the two engravings now in progress by Mr Richard Josey, one being the portrait of my mother', Whistler made over the copyright of the latter to Howell. 7 However, before completion of the mezzotint Whistler filed bankruptcy papers and 'A portrait of my mother' was declared as one of his assets, worth £500. 8 By 25 August 1879, 100 impressions of the mezzotint had been printed and Howell hoped to have a further 100 printed, but complained of the expense. 9

On 10 January 1881 Whistler paid back £50 of the £200 then owing to H. Graves & Co., and on 9 May 1882 a further instalment of £50, leaving £100 plus £41.13.4 interest, calculated at a rate of 5 per cent. 10

According to Harrison S. Morris (1856-1948), later manager of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Academy refused to buy Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother for $1500; furthermore, Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920) said 'on good authority' that it 'was offered in New York for $1200 and found no buyer.' 11

By June 1882 the painting was back with H. Graves & Co., though Whistler kept borrowing it to show to potential clients or for exhibition. He was practically playing musical chairs with Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle [YMSM 137],and Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder [YMSM 203]. 12

William Booth Pearsall (1845-1913) said that in Dublin Jonathan Hogg (1847-1930) offered to buy Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother but Whistler assured him it was not for sale. 'How can it ever have been supposed that I offered the picture of my Mother for sale! ... certainly I should never dream of disposing of it', he wrote. 13 He also thanked William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) for not buying the picture, and implied that he planned to retrieve it from Graves and keep it for himself, because it was 'more personal.' 14

Although Whistler had still not settled his account with Graves, in December 1886 he arranged to 'mortgage' Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother to Richard DOyly Carte (1844-1901) with Arrangement in Black: La Dame au brodequin jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell [YMSM 242] as security for £500.0.0 (at 5 per cent) which he then lent to the Society of British Artists. 15 Whistler was repaid by the RBA, and possibly redeemed the portrait of the his mother from D'Oyly Carte in July 1888. 16 Whistler probably settled his account with H. Graves & Co. after they sent their bill to him in November 1888. 17

According to David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) of Goupil's, London, after the success of the 'private' exhibition of Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle in April 1891, and its sale to the City of Glasgow, he suggested to Whistler that Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother should be offered to the Musée du Luxembourg; to this Whistler agreed, and 'set to work to get the picture into his possession.' 18

Thomson also mentioned this to Maurice Joyant (1864-1930), manager of Goupil's Paris branch, who thought it 'une idée excellente ... les sympathies de tous les artistes et amateurs sont déjà depuis longtemps avec Mr. Whistler' and suggested forming a committee of such interested parties, stressing, however, that a low price was essential since 'les prix d'achats sont au maximum dans les dix mille francs.' 19

Whistler shot off to Paris to campaign with his friend, the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), and as he told his wife, 'The Luxembourg is I really believe not so far off - for Proust is no longer the Ministre des Beaux Arts, but an intimate friend of Mallarmé holds that post! - and the matter will be seen to at once!' 20

An article by Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) in Le Gaulois on 4 November 1891 strongly urged the acquisition of the portrait by the State ̶ a bit too strongly, indeed, which alarmed Whistler, as he told Mallarmé, 'C'est tres gentil de sa part - très chaud - peutetre trop chaud à notre point de vue - vous savez - un peu trop agressive! Un peu trop dans le sens demonstration - Manet - Martyre - etc.' 21

Mallarmé was planning an approach to the Directeur des beaux-arts, Henri Roujon (1853-1914), and, when Roujon fell ill, proposed to send him an article by Théodore Duret (1838-1927) in which the painting was reproduced. 22 Meanwhile the portrait was taken off exhibition at Goupil's, and Whistler, while hoping for news from on high – that is, from Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921) – begged the Machiavellian Mallarmé to calm down Duret, who in his enthusiasm planned to contact the art critic Roger Marx (1859-1913) and Charles Yriarte (1832-1898), an Inspecteur at the Ministère de l'instruction publique et des beaux-arts. 23

The notion of buying the painting by public subscription, as in the case of Manet's Olympia in November 1891, was ultimately rejected, as was the somewhat risky suggestion by Mathias Morhardt (1863-1939), editor of Le Temps, and Alidor Delzant (1848-1905), for a 'comité illustre' to organise the purchase. The question of price was discussed: Whistler's portrait of Carlyle had fetched 25000 francs, but he thought 'mille livres - il y a une certaine dignité -, qui empèche, qu'içi, l'on dise que le tableau avait été offert pour rien', and Mallarmé replied that although the price would necessarily be derisory, 'environ cinq mille francs', it would be more flattering if the Minister himself asked to buy the painting for the Musée du Luxembourg, to which Whistler enthusiastically agreed. 24 Duret mentioned, as an extra incentive, the certainty of promotion from 'chevalier' to 'officier' of the Légion d'honneur. 25

With the help of Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), Leon Victor Auguste Bourgeois (1851-1925), the Minister of the Interior, was persuaded to visit the Goupil gallery to see the painting. He wrote on 19 November 1891 to ask if Whistler would sell the portrait, 'l'une de vos toiles que la critique et le publique ont le plus justement remarquée', to which Whistler replied, 'Le tableau dont vous avez fait choix, est précisement [sic] celui que je pouvais le plus sensiblement souhaiter voir devenir l'objet d'une si solennelle consécration.' (The picture you have chosen is precisely the one which I would be most happy to see become the object of such formal recognition.) 26

On 30 November 1891, 'le Portrait de ma mère' (the official document from Bourgeois calls it 'le portrait d'une dame âgée') was purchased for 4000 francs, the low price agreed by Whistler reflecting his concern that the portrait should enter the Luxembourg. 27 As Mallarmé told the artist, 'Oui, c'est bien pour le Louvre, cela va de soi, le Luxembourg n'en est que l'antichambre': the painting entered the Luxembourg on 14 December 1891, the Jeu de Paume on 15 July 1922 and the Musée du Louvre in 1926. 28

A Bat, Montesquiou, R. de, Les chauves-souris: clair-obscurs, 1893
A Bat, Montesquiou, R. de, Les chauves-souris: clair-obscurs, 1893

To celebrate the purchase by the French Government Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac held a soirée for Whistler on 25 November 1891. The count read the poem Moth, which he had composed for the occasion (it was published in Les chauves-souris: clair-obscurs in 1892, and with the addition of a bat drawn by Whistler, in the 1893 edition). 29 The poem ended with a verse about Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother. Whistler was moved to tears.

On 30 January 1892, Whistler heard officially that he had been promoted to the rank of Chévalier de la Légion d'honneur. 30 It was reported in the Paris Figaro on the following day. His friend the sculptor Charles L. Drouet (1836-1908) held a dinner to celebrate.

Friends and supporters on both sides of the Channel and, indeed, of the Atlantic, were delighted. As Mallarmé told Whistler, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was complimentary: 'J'aurais aimé que vous entendissiez Degas parler avec toute la sincérité de son admiration, hier soir, en revenant d'un diner, du "Portrait de ma mère".' 31 Another old friend was less congratulatory. When Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) met Whistler in the Louvre, 'en touchant le ruban rouge fraîchement éclos à la boutonnière' – the red ribbon of the Order – Fantin said, 'C'est pour cela que tu as vendu ta mère!' 32

Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) wrote that he would have preferred to see the portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and John Chandler Bancroft (1835-1901), said that he would have preferred 'our poor Museum in Boston ... where it would may be do more good in the long run', but he was the first to report to Whistler on the presentation of the picture at the Luxembourg.

'I went yesterday to the Luxembourg & found the picture on an easel very prominent in the first room ... I took a good look at it ... coming back to it three or four times, each time with more satisfaction and my first impression each time strengthened - It has a simplicity and dignity of sentiment and a quiet richness of tone and light which place it by itself in the collection ... I could hardly turn my back upon it - You will surely be well pleased when you see it.' 33

After a week or two on an easel, it was hung in the salle d'honneur, but Whistler refused to go and see it until his wife, Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896), arrived in Paris. 34 He considered it as a triumph and the justification of his work, 'To go and look at one's own picture hanging on the walls of the Luxembourg! - remembering how it was treated in England ... and to know that all this is gall & bitterness and a tremendous slap in the face to the Academy and the rest! Really it is like a dream!' 35 He raved on about the triumph, 'C'est beau d'avoir été insulté en Angleterre, pour être couvert d'honneur en France!' or, in English, to Frederick Jameson (1839-1916), 'To be insulted in England and covered with honour in France! - how splendid! - For supposing it had been t'other way about - what a fool's paradise!' 36 And, as he told a journalist, George Washburn Smalley (1833-1916) (who duly reported Whistler's triumph), 'this is simply the greatest honour that can possibly be conferred upon an Artist - and it occurs to me in my lifetime!' 37

Thus Whistler told the press, or got others to inform journalists of his success and also told patrons and art dealers that the press was impressed! Beatrice Whistler, for instance, told the art dealer Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), 'Since the sale of the Mother's picture to the French Government, it is wonderful in what a different tone Whistler's pictures are spoken of by the London press - Several have said that his are the only pictures likely to increase in value as time goes on.' 38 And at the same time she told a major patron, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), 'You would be very much amused at the difference it has made in the tone of the London papers!! They say it is disgrace to England that such a picture was allowed to go out of the country, quite ignoring the fact that this is one of the pictures they laughed at!!' 39 Yet Whistler, who had assured people that the purchase would increase the value of his works, illogically complained to Freer that this was the case:

'the Englishmen have all sold ... whatever paintings of mine they possessed! directly they were hall marked by the French Government, and established as of value - turning over, under my very eyes, literally for thousands what they had gotten for odd pounds!' 40

Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) made a lithograph of the portrait, and Graves & Co. relinquished their copyright in January 1892, at Whistler's request, in return for 25 proofs of Way's lithograph, which was 'signed' with a butterfly stamp copied from Whistler's monogram. Unfortunately the lithograph failed to compete financially with a photograph that was on sale at Goupil's. 'I touch each impression before signing, and have before me the proof you worked on yourself.' wrote Way, adding, 'They are not going very fast however. The fine photo you have in the Exhibition is selling and taking the wind out of my sails for the moment.' 41

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Goupil Album, photograph, 1892, GUL Whistler PH5/2
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Goupil Album, photograph, 1892, GUL Whistler PH5/2

Whistler at first ignored Way's problem, and encouraged the inclusion of a photograph, taken by Boussod Valadon & Cie, and signed by himself, in the album of selected images from Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892. 42 However, he later told Way that the proofs were 'greatly improved'. 43


  • 1872: 104th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1872 (cat. no. 941) as 'Arrangement in grey and black: portrait of the painter's mother'.
  • 1874: Mr Whistler's Exhibition, Flemish Gallery, 48 Pall Mall, London, 1874 (cat. no. 4) as 'Arrangement in Grey and Black, Portrait of the Artist's Mother'.
  • 1881: Special Exhibition of Paintings by American Artists at Home and in Europe, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1881 (cat. no. 191).
  • 1882: Fifth Annual Exhibition at the American Art Gallery, Society of American Artists, New York, 1882 (cat. no. 124).
  • 1883: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 101st exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1883 (cat. no. 2441) as 'Portrait de ma mère'.
  • 1884: Annual Exhibition of Sketches, Pictures & Photography: A Loan Collection of Pictures by Mr Whistler ..., Dublin Sketching Club, Dublin, 1884 (cat. no. 244).
  • 1888: III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1888 (not in catalogue) as 'Der Künstlers Mutter'.
  • 1889: 28th Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Glasgow, 1889 (not numbered in catalogue) as 'Portrait of the Artist's Mother'.
  • 1889: Retrospective Exhibition, College for Working Men and Women, London, 1889 (no catalogue).
  • 1889: Tentoonstelling van Kunstwerken van Levende Meesters, Amsterdam, 1889 (cat. no. 468) as 'Arrangement en gris et noir. (Portrait de la mère du peintre.'
  • 1891: 1st exhibition, Society of Portrait Painters, London, 1891 (cat. no. 224) as 'Arrangement in Black (Portrait of the Artist's Mother)'.
  • 1892: A photograph was shown in Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 44) as 'Arrangement in Grey and Black / Portrait of the Painter's Mother'.
  • 1905: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 23) as 'Portrait of My Mother' and 'Arrangement in Grey and Black, Portrait of the Painter's Mother' in ordinary and deluxe edition respectively.
  • 1905: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 17) as 'Arrangement en gris et noir. Portrait de la mère de l'auteur. - (Arrangement in Black and Grey, Portrait of "My Mother").'
  • 1905: Peintures de l'Ecole Américaine, musée national du Luxembourg, Paris, 1905.

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay


Whistler offered to show the painting to the art critic Thomas Taylor (1817-1880) before it was submitted to the Royal Academy in 1872. 44

The Pennells write that at first the selection committee rejected Whistler's painting:

'There was indignation outside the Academy. Madox Brown wrote to George Rae: "I hear that Whistler has had the portrait of his mother turned out. If so, it is a shame, because I saw the picture, and know it to be good and beautiful, though, I suppose, not to the taste of Messrs. Ansdell and Dobson."

There was indignation also inside the Academy. Sir William Boxall threatened to resign from the Council if the portrait was not hung, for he would not have it said that a committee to which he belonged had rejected it ... Boxall, though an Academician, would not yield, and the picture was hung, not well, yet not out of sight; groups, it is said, were always gathered before it to laugh. Still, there it was, the last picture by Whistler at the Academy.' 45

William Boxall (1800-1879) was a friend of the Whistler's and his portrait of the 14 year-old Whistler (now in The Hunterian, University of Glasgow) had been exhibited at the RA in 1849.

At the RA in 1872 Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother was hung, Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929) remembered, 'over a door, or at any rate pretty high up – but not too high to be seen', and at the time he thought it 'very strange very stately and ... singularly devoid of colour.' 46

The Examiner on 22 June 1872 commented on the beautifully drawn features and decorative details, but criticised the restrained colour scheme:

' "Arrangement in grey and black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother", is another of Mr J. A. M. Whistler's experiments, and his only contribution to the Academy's exhibition. It is astonishing how much Mr Whistler has here accomplished with two colours, aided, however, by touches of red on the face and hands, and of yellow in the carpet, footstool, and cardboard of the drawing on the wall. The lines of the face are beautifully and delicately drawn, and the black lace curtain is carefully elaborated. We should think it probable that the likeness, both of the room and of the lady, is true and intimate; but it is not a picture, and we fail to discover any object that the artist can have in view in restricting himself almost entirely to black and grey.'

Some critics expressed qualified approval, The Times, for instance, commented that the 'quiet harmony' was welcome 'among the harsh, loud discords of the Exhibition,' but added that 'The head of the gentle-looking, silver-haired old lady, however, lacks solidity, and the white of the mounted print on the wall surely comes too far before her lace cap, ruffles and handkerchief.' 47 Another critic wrote (with reservations) an appreciative review of Whistler's Royal Academy exhibit – a review which, curiously enough, was largely repeated for Whistler's one-man show in 1874:

'Far removed from commonplace, however, is Mr. Wistler’s [sic] contribution ... described in the catalogue as "An Arrangement in Black and White [sic]: Portrait of the Painter's Mother." This canvas is large, and much of it vacant. A thin, cold light fills the room, where the flat grey wall is only broken by a solitary picture in black and white; a piece of foldless, creaseless, Oriental, flowered crape hangs from the cornice. The floor and the walls are subdued, softened, and fused to a level which might have become monotonous in any other hands. And here, in this solemn chamber, sits the lady in mournful garb, in calm pensive, contemplative mood. The picture has found few admirers ... and for this result the painter has only to thank himself; An artist who could deal with large masses so grandly might have shown a little less severity, and thrown in a few details of interest without offence. One who could so well conceive the bearing and dignity of age, marking its character of thoughtful ease and repose with unerring pencil, might have lit up the lineaments with living light, if not with warmth, and have marked with greater emphasis the settled lines, the furrows which worldly cares create, and deeply stamp upon the human countenance.' 48

Whistler suggested to Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) that the requisite 'few details' might be 'a glass of sherry & the Bible!' 49

1872-1873: PARIS.

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1873, New York Public Library
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1873, New York Public Library

Whistler told Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) that he thought of sending it to Paris: 'Le portrait de ma mère je ferai photographier et je t'en enverrai une epreuve - Aussi je pense peutêtre envoyer la toile à Paris pour le Salon prochain.' 50 The photograph was distributed among friends and family. Whistler's mother told a friend that Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848-1939) 'had just been to see Jemie & his pictures & requested the favor of his painting a copy of my Portrait - he presented her a Photograph of it instead!' 51 The painting was not, however, exhibited in Paris at that time.

1874: PALL MALL.

The Hour compared it to Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander [YMSM 129], which hung near Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother:

'The only fault in the picture is that the head is some what vaporous, and has less firmness and solidity than the other parts. The same peculiarity is, to some extent observable m the otherwise fine portrait of an aged lady ... The tone in this is more sombre and very fine in quality, and the keeping throughout is perfect. This picture was, if we are not mistaken, exhibited some years ago at the Royal Academy as "Portrait of the Artist’s Mother;" the effect of light and shade is very broad and massive, and the treatment appropriately simple and dignified.' 52


At the time of the trial, works that had been hung in important exhibitions, such as the Royal Academy, were chosen by Whistler to be shown in his defense in court. These included Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101]. He asked Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890) to come and see 'the pictures I have there collected',

'I am sure that before the dignified portrait of my mother - the fine sketch of Carlyle, and the really beautiful picture of little Miss Alexander (all just varnished and seen for the first time in their full richness of color) you will feel that truth is on my side and have renewed confidence in the painter!' 53

1881-1882: AMERICA

It was lent by H. Graves & Co. for exhibition in Philadelphia in 1881. Whistler asked Graves to 'Kindly have the picture wiped or cleaned so that it may leave in first rate condition' and told his sister-in-law that 'I never saw it looking so well!' 54


Henri Guérard, 'Portrait de ma mère', etching, Gazette des beaux-arts, 1883
Henri Guérard, 'Portrait de ma mère', etching, Gazette des beaux-arts, 1883

The painting was escorted by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) to the Salon in Paris in 1883. 55 According to Whistler, 'my Mother's portrait is a great success and they speak of giving me a medal - but I don't suppose they will - it is not in human nature'; in fact he was awarded a third-class medal. 56

Salon pour rire, 21 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 5
Salon pour rire, 21 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 5
L'Univers Illustré, [May 1883], GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4
L'Univers Illustré, [May 1883], GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4
La Caricature, 19 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4
La Caricature, 19 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4

Several art critics mocked the portrait. L' Union Médicale thought Whistler should have mentioned that the portrait showed his mother 'après sa mort.' Among the precursors of a long line of caricatures, L' Univers Illustré showed 'Une pauvre dame abandonnée dans un appartement, dont les cheminées fument,' and La Caricature represented 'Protestation contre les brouillards de l'Angleterre.' ('A poor lady abandoned in an apartment where the chimneys smoke', and 'A protest against the fogs of England'). 57

But the painting inspired a number of more appreciative reviews. Le Rappel commented on the originality of 'Cette peinture délicate, pleine de subtilités, dans des gris d'une finesse extrême', and Charles Bigot (1840-1893) in the Gazette des beaux-arts appreciated Whistler's integrity, ‘l'unité d'impression qui se dégage de cette peinture ... l'accord de la couleur et du sujet ... la vérité de la pose de cette vieille femme assise.' 58 Le Jour was exceptional in perceiving that Whistler was not interested in the merely anecdotal side of the portrait, but in the abstract arrangement of its colour, and tones: 'M. Whistler se sert d'une palette extrêmement sobre. Du blanc, du noir, quelques jaunes, des rouges et c'est tout. Mais quelle poésie dans le jeu de ces quatre tons où les premiers dominent avec une saveur étrange.' 59

An article on the Salon by William Crary Brownell (1851-1928) described the portrait as having 'a grave dignity, not without sensibility, a quiet and almost severe grace that is full of character, it is difficult to conceive a more charming union of portraiture and picturesqueness.' 60 This favourable article was cited by George Roland Halkett (1855-1918) when recommending (in vain) the purchase of Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle [YMSM 137] for the Scottish National Gallery in 1884. 61

1884: DUBLIN.

The painting was insured for £300.0.0 for the trip to Dublin. 62 According to William Booth Pearsall (1845-1913), in Dublin Jonathan Hogg (1847-1930) offered to buy the portrait but Whistler assured him it was not for sale. 63


Several letters refer to the proposed exhibition of 'Arrangement in Grey & Black, Portrait of the Painter's Mother' at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester, but it is possible it did not arrive in time, and in any case Whistler's paintings and etchings were summarily removed, at the artist's request, because he was not happy about the hanging. 64 Furthermore, in one letter (and it is not clear whether this dates from an earlier, unidentified exhibition, or a later request) Whistler wrote to Marcus Bourne Huish (1843-1904), refusing to lend 'the Portrait of my Mother':

'At their own request, I lent them the Portrait of my Mother - and I learned that they hung it disgracefully -

This I have on the best possible authority - Doubtless the Committee does not think that the picture was at all badly placed - and this makes it all the more important that I should never entrust them with any other work of mine - for surely you will acknowledge that it is folly indeed that I should again submit to their judgement a painting that has established for itself a reputation that entitles it to respect, so that after hanging on "the line" in a place of honor in the Salon, I should find it in the Provinces relegated to the second or third tier, because the Manchester Committee have thought fit to place it according to their opinion instead of accepting it as an honored loan, requiring no further sitting in council on their part.' 65

1888: MUNICH.

Robert Koehler (1850-1917), of the American Artists' Club in Munich, hearing that Whistler had agreed to exhibit 'in the section for England' asked if he could spare work for the American section, and when he agreed, asked how much wall space he would require. Unfortunately there was insufficient space for the thirteen oils, twenty watercolours, seven pastels and thirty etchings sent by Whistler and they remained in the British section. 66 Although it was not in the catalogue, 'Der Künstlers Mutter' was awarded a second-class gold medal, and Whistler wrote, memorably, to the Central Committee: 'Pray convey my sentiments of tempered and respectable joy to the Gentlemen of the Committee, and my complete appreciation of the second-class compliment paid me.' 67


The portrait was requested for the 28th Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Glasgow, 1889, and Whistler agreed to lend if it was insured for 1000 guineas and returned in time for the Exposition Universelle, Champs de Mars, Paris, 1889. 68 In the end, the painting did not make it to Paris, and instead went to the large Whistler exhibition organised by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) at the College for Men and Women, which opened on 2 May 1889, but had no catalogue. 69


Elbert Jan van Wisselingh (1848-1912) encouraged Whistler to send the portrait to the Municipal Exhibition, 'I certainly think it is worth while and I know beforehand that it will be well spoken of by some of our art-critics and highly thought of by our best artists', and, he added, it might help him to sell Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket [YMSM 181]! 70 Van Wisselingh showed Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother to Reinhard Boelens, Baron van Lynden (1827-1896), and his wife, the artist Ida Wilhelmina Boelens (1848-1899), née van den Bergh, Baroness van Lynden, and they wondered if Whistler would be prepared to paint 'a similar portrait of their mother a lady far advanced in years.' 71 This potential commission came to nothing, but Whistler's paintings, including the portrait of his mother, were awarded a gold medal in the exhibition. 72 The painting was retained in Amsterdam briefly, because Whistler considered sending it to Paris. 73

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL, MS Whistler PH5/2
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL, MS Whistler PH5/2

1891-1892: PARIS & LONDON.

Thomson suggested to Whistler that the portrait of his mother should be offered to the Musée du Luxembourg. Whistler agreed, and it was sent to Maurice Joyant (1864-1930) at Goupil's Paris branch for exhibition. 74 After the successful sale of Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother to the Luxembourg, Whistler thanked Joyant effusively for 'bonne volonté, d'energie et de tact, à mon égard, dans cette occasion òu votre grande appréciation artistique a tant activé le resultat.' 75 Although the painting was in Paris and not available for show in London, a photograph of Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother was shown in Whistler's retrospective Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces in 1892.


1: Whistler to the Sheriff, [28 February 1874], GUW #12261.

2: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 226.

3: 'American Artists in London, What they have done for Philadelphia', New York Herald, New York, 10 April 1876, p. 5. Press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 2, p. 2.

4: A. Graves to Whistler, 9 September 1878, GUW #01797; Howell to Graves, 9 September and 6 November 1878, GUW #02184 and #02185.

5: Pennell 1921C [more], vol. 1, p. 227; see Pennell, Joseph, and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, The Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection of Whistleriana Shown in Division of Prints, Library of Congress, Southwest Pavilion , Washington, 1921, pp. 60-61; and A. Graves to Whistler, 9 May 1882, GUW #01806.

6: A. Graves to Whistler, 26 November 1878, GUW #01798.

7: C. A. Howell, [1 January 1879], GUW #02412; Subscription forms, GUW #02412, #11902, #02838, #11682; 1 May 1879, GUW #02835. Way 1912 [more], p. 13.

8: The London Bankruptcy Court to J. A. Rose, 7 May 1879, GUW #11711.

9: Howell to Whistler, 25 August 1879, GUW #02187.

10: Receipt signed by H. Graves, GUW #01800. Business records, H. Graves & Co., [29 September 1887], [September 1887], and [26 December 1888], GUW #11465, #10923, #10926 and #01827.

11: Eddy 1903 [more], p. 54.

12: Whistler to H. Graves, 19 June [1882], GUW #10916; see also H. Ribbing to Whistler, 14 January 1885, GUW #01819.

13: Whistler to W. B. Pearsall, [4/11 December 1884], GUW #08109.

14: [1 September 1885], GUW #00594 and see also GUW #13337; Roof, Katharine Metcalf, The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase, New York, 1975, pp. 140-43.

15: Helen Lenoir to Whistler, 9 and 20 December 1886, 29 and 31 January and 15 April 1887, GUW #00932, #00933, #00936, #00937, #00938.

16: Lewis and Lewis to Whistler, 26 June 1888, GUW #02538.

17: A. Graves to Whistler, 20 November 1888, GUW #01825; H. Graves to Whistler, [26 November 1888], GUW #10926.

18: Marchant 1911 [more], republished 1922, p. 19.

19: M. Joyant to D. C. Thomson, 13 October 1891, GUW #00379.

20: J. Whistler to B. Whistler, [28/29 October 1891], GUW #06601. Antonin Proust (1832-1905) had been replaced by Henri Roujon (1853-1914). See also S. Mallarmé to Whistler, [3 November 1891], GUW #03817.

21: Geffroy 1891 B [more], p. 1. Whistler to Mallarmé, [7 November 1891], GUW #03818.

22: Mallarmé to Whistler, [9 November 1891], GUW #03819. Duret 1888 [more], repr. f.p. 216.

23: [10 November 1891], GUW #03820.

24: Mallarmé to Whistler, and replies, [11, 13, 14 and 16 November 1891], GUW #03821, #03822, #03823 and #03824.

25: T. Duret to Whistler, 18 November 1891, GUW #00988; Margaret F. MacDonald and Joy Newton, ‘The Selling of Whistler’s Mother’, American Society of the Legion of Honor Magazine, vol. 49, 1978, pp. 97-120.

26: Bourgeois to Whistler, 19 November 1891, GUW #01494; reply, 23 November 1891, GUW #01495; see also Whistler to Mallarmé, [20 and 24 November 1891], GUW #03825, and Bourgeois' letter of congratulations, 30 November 1891, GUW #01497.

27: Mallarmé to Whistler, [24 November 1891], GUW #03828; reply, [25 November 1891], GUW #09301; Duret to Whistler, 27 November 1891, GUW #00989; R. Marx to Duret, [27 November 1891], GUW #04025; Mallarmé to Whistler, [27 November 1891], GUW #03829; Bourgeois to Whistler, 30 November 1891, GUW #01497; Bourgeois to unknown recipient, 30 November 1891, GUW #12318; Mallarmé to Whistler, [30 November 1891], GUW #13464; Whistler to Bourgeois, 9 December 1891, GUW #01498; Ministère de l'instruction publique et des beaux-arts, record of purchase, 20 March 1892, GUW #12315.

28: [30 November 1891], GUW #13464; see M. Joyant to Whistler, 4 December 1891, GUW #00381, draft reply, [5 December 1891], GUW #10474.

29: Montesquiou 1892 [more]; Montesquiou 1893 A [more]; Munhall 1995 [more].

30: Whistler to Henri Roujon, [30 January 1892], GUW #05252.

31: [27 November 1891], GUW #03829; see also P. Beurdeley to Whistler, 2 December 1891, GUW #00296; C. Monet to Whistler, 4 December 1891, GUW #04097; Whistler to Mallarmé, [7 December 1891], GUW #03831; Chelsea Arts Club to Whistler, 9 December 1891, GUW #00598.

32: Fonds Montesquiou, Bibliothèque Nationale; MacDonald, Margaret F. and Joy Newton, 'The Selling of Whistler's Mother', American Society of the Legion of Honor Magazine, vol. 49, 1978, pp. 97-120.

33: Bancroft to Whistler, 1 and 17 December 1891, GUW #00244 and #00246; Mansfield to Whistler, 25 February 1892, GUW #03997.

34: Mallarmé to Whistler, 23 December 1891, GUW #13466; Whistler to B. Whistler, [19 January 1892], GUW #06607.

35: Whistler to Dr W. Whistler, [1/14 February 1892], GUW#07006.

36: Draft letter to a Duke, possibly George Charles Spencer-Churchill (1844-1892), 8th Duke of Marlborough, [25/31 January 1892], GUW #13544; and to Frederick Jameson, [29 January 1892], GUW #10826.

37: [December 1891], GUW #10996, and [9/16 January 1892], GUW #05472; the purchase was briefly reported by 'Our own correspondent', 'France', The Times, London, 30 November 1891, p. 5, and more extensively by Smalley: G. W. S., 'Mr. Whistler: His Entrance into the Luxembourg ...' New York Daily Tribune, 17 January 1892 (GUL Whistler PC 13/2).

38: [19 March 1892], GUW #09676; see also B. Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 1 May 1892, GUW #09677.

39: [19 March 1892], GUW #11670.

40: [29 July 1899], GUW #03196.

41: T. R. Way to Whistler, 17 January 1892, GUW #06092; 9 April 1892, GUW #06095. See also Way to Whistler, 7 December 1891, GUW #06090, and D. C. Thomson to Whistler, 21 December 1891, GUW #05680.

42: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [13 April 1892], GUW #08340.

43: [30 September 1892], GUW #03321.

44: [2 April 1872], GUW #11971.

45: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, pp. 157-58.

46: 'Reminiscences', [1886/1887], GUW #08699.

47: 'Exhibition of the Royal Academy' (Second Notice), The Times, London, 21 May 1872, p. 7. This is among several press cuttings, possibly removed from an earlier album and stuck higgledy piggledy into an album in the 1870s, GUL Whistler PC1, p. 9.

48: Unidentified press cutting [1872], GUL Whistler PC1, p. 9; 'Fine Arts. Mr Whistler's Paintings and Etchings, Evening Standard, London, 24 June 1874; GUL Whistler PC1, p. 69. In the second version, the critic added one comment: 'A couple of seasons back we spoke of a portrait of the painter’s mother, which was exhibited at Burlington House, under the fanciful title "An Arrangement in Black and White," which is now changed to "An Arrangement in Grey and Black".'

49: Note by Sickert beside unidentified press cutting, GUL Whistler PC 1, p. 9.

50: [August 1872], GUW #08041.

51: A. M. Whistler to M. E. H. Eastwick, 19 July 1876, GUW #12635.

52: 'Mr Whistler's Pictures', The Hour, [1874], GUL Whistler PC 1, p. 71.

53: 20 November [1878], GUW #00322. See also High Court of Justice to J. A. Rose, 25 November 1878, GUW #11991; Whistler to J. A. Rose, [November 1878], GUW #08784; J. A. Rose, note, [25-26 November 1878], GUW #11914; A. Graves to Whistler, 26 November 1878, GUW #01798.

54: Whistler to H. Graves, 4 September 1881, GUW #10915; Whistler to H. E. Ionides, [September 1881], GUW #06694.

55: Whistler to O. Wilde, [May 1883], GUW #11714.

56: Whistler to J. A. Chapman, [May/June 1883], GUW #09034. Whistler seems to have mislaid the medal, and J. Whitehead wrote to E. G. Brown on 15 December 1902, offering to return it to Whistler in exchange for a drawing (GUW #01385).

57: See Margaret F. MacDonald and Joy Newton, 'The selling of Whistler's Mother', and Martha Tedeschi, 'The Face That Launched a Thousand Images: Whistler's Mother and popular culture' in MacDonald 2003b [more], pp. 69-70, and 121-141.

58: Le Rappel, Paris, 26 May 1883; Bigot 1883 [more].

59: Press cuttings in GUL Whistler PC 6-7.

60: Brownell 1883 [more].

61: G. R. Halkett to the Scotsman, 3 October 1884, GUW #11748; Halkett 1884 [more].

62: Whistler to H. Graves, [June/November 1884], GUW #10929; A. Graves to Whistler, 17 November 1884, GUW #01818.

63: Whistler to Pearsall, [4/11 December 1884], GUW #08109. Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, pp. 35-36.

64: Whistler to George William Agnew (1852-1941), [16/18 April] 1887, GUW #03983; G. W. Agnew to Whistler, 18 April 1887, GUW #03984.

65: Whistler to M. B. Huish, dating from after 1883, and possibly [1/18 April 1887], GUW #02979;

66: Koehler to Whistler, 3 and 17 April 1888, 28 May 1888, GUW #04200, #04201, #04205; list by Whistler, 1888, GUW #04202.

67: [3 September 1888], GUW #07979; published with variations in several newspapers. See Whistler, James McNeill, [Letter to the Central Committee of the International Art Exhibition, Munich], The World: A Journal For Men and Women, 5 September 1888, p. 17. Reprinted in Whistler 1892 [more], p. 229.

68: Whistler to R. Walker, 13 December 1888, GUW #03515; again, it was not in the catalogue. A painting wrongly attributed to Whistler, Dream of Morning off Gravesend, was also exhibited in Glasgow (cat. no. 472) but was quickly removed after Whistler protested. Whistler to R. Walker, 12 February 1889, GUW #03521, #03524; Whistler to The Baillie, [20 February 1889], GUW #00233.

69: Evening News, London, 14 May 1889, GUL Whistler PC 10, p. 91. See Sickert, Walter R., 'The Private Galleries', New York Herald, New York, 4 May 1889.

70: 28 June [1889], GUW #07101.

71: E. J. van Wisselingh to Whistler, 9 August 1889, GUW #07102.

72: Burgomaster, Amsterdam, to Whistler, 8 October 1889, GUW #00160.

73: C. J. W. Hanson to E. J. van Wisselingh, 21 November 1889, GUW #03560.

74: Joyant to Whistler, [January 1892], formerly dated [January 1891], GUW #07838;

75: [16/18 November 1891], GUW #07841.

Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret