This Self-Portrait is difficult to date, either from the technique, because it is not finished, or from Whistler's appearance.
Photographs of the artist dating from the mid-1860s and late 1870s show one distinctive change, the appearance of a distinctive white lock in his dark curly hair in the later photographs. It was in the early 1870s that Whistler began to arrange his hair so that this was visible, according to his mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881). 1
1870/1875: Self-Portrait [YMSM 124] was dated 'about 1870/5' in the 1980 catalogue raisonné. 2 It was dated by comparison with other portraits of Whistler, such as Arrangement in Grey: Portrait of the Painter [YMSM 122]. However, the technique is different, and suggests a later date for the Self-Portrait under discussion.
1878/1879: The provenance of this work has not been securely established but suggests that it was given in payment of debts to Whistler's grocer: this could imply a date about the time of his bankruptcy, but could also apply to a much later date.
1891: A photograph taken in the mid-1880s shows the conspicuous white lock in Whistler's hair, and does resemble Whistler's appearance in this portrait to some extent, particularly in regard to the size of the moustache. Another photograph, dated 1891, comes somewhat closer to his appearance in the Self-Portrait under discussion. Unfortunately none of these photographs are conclusive in dating the portrait.
1893/1894: Whistler was probably working on more than one self portrait during this period, and references in books and letters could refer to this Self-Portrait [YMSM 124] or the Self-Portrait [YMSM 416] in the Fogg Art Museum. For instance, the Pennells suggest a date of 1893/1894 for a self-portrait that was reworked in 1896 or later. 3 Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) remembered seeing Whistler at work on several self-portraits, possibly including this: he does not specify a date but it could have been when Whistler was at work on Green and Violet: Portrait of Mrs Walter Sickert [YMSM 338]. 4 Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920) saw a self-portrait in Whistler's studio in 1894, but mentioned no details. 5
1895: Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896) wrote to the art dealer Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) that Whistler was painting a portrait, possibly this one or Brown and Gold [YMSM 440]: 'He thinks he will be through with his portrait by the end of next week.' 6
1896: Self-Portrait [YMSM 124] may be the self-portrait described by the Pennells as 'in the white jacket, which was changed into a black coat after Mrs. Whistler's death' in 1896. 7 There are some traces on the shoulders of a change of colour. This is the main reason for suggesting that Self-Portrait [YMSM 124] dates from the 1890s. However, X-rays of the painting give no indication of a white jacket.
4: Sickert, Walter R., ‘Where Paul and I differ’, Art News, No. 14, 10 February 1910, p. 113.
7: Pennell 1911, op. cit., p. 322.
Last updated: 25th October 2020 by Margaret