The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland dates from between 1873 and 1875. 1 According to the Pennells:
'Mr. Leyland gave Whistler commissions to paint his four children, Mrs. Leyland and himself ... Whistler made long visits at Speke Hall, Leyland's place near Liverpool. ... The big canvases travelled with him, backward and forward, between Speke Hall and London, and the sittings were continued in both places. They all sat to him. The children hated posing as much as they delighted in Whistler ... There are pastels of the three little girls, sketches in pen and ink, and the fine group of drypoints. Of Elinor Leyland, a large full-length oil was started, the first of his Blue Girls.' 2
1874: The etching Elinor Leyland , dating from 1874, shows her in a similar pose to the painting.
1875: On 12 May Whistler's mother wrote to Frances Leyland (1834-1910), who was at Speke Hall:
'I hope my dear Jamie may soon finish the portraits at the Hall & be permitted to come home to work as he has been doing this week. Beg Elinor in pity to my loneliness to encourage & help the Artist, I know she is weary of him & of posing, but I am sure she & Flo & Jamie will be as anxious as we all are to have their likeness perfected.' 3
1875/1876: Another drawing, Study for 'The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland' [M.0717], reproduced above, shows the composition in some detail, and appears to date from 1875/1876.
About the same time, Walter Greaves (1846-1930) planned to paint his sister Eliza Greaves (Mrs George Rainger) (1838-1878) wearing a blue dress, and Whistler asked him not to do so, 'for you know ... my picture of little Miss Leyland in blue cashmire [sic] and velvet - in short, the arrangement in blue - you know how jolly it is - and of course I shall paint it directly I have time.' 4
Although Greaves went ahead, as he said, 'It never did us any good to go against Mr. Whistler, for that verdigris blue turned green after all'; the resulting picture is known as The Green Dress (reproduced above). 5 And Whistler never did, apparently, 'have time' to finish his portrait.
1879: According to an inscription by Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890) on the back of a drawing, Study for 'The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland' [M.0717], the painting was destroyed by Whistler early in 1879.
Last updated: 25th November 2020 by Margaret