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

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Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle

Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle dates from between 1872 and 1873. 1

1872: According to Whistler, Mme Emilie Venturi (1821–1893) and Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) saw the Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101] in Whistler's studio in 1872, and she persuaded Carlyle to sit to Whistler, after which sittings began almost immediately in the studio at 2 Lindsey Row:

'[Carlyle] came one morning soon, and he sat down, and I had the canvas ready, and my brushes and palette, and Carlyle said, And now, mon, fire away! ... Carlyle agreed that I had given him clean linen and he liked the portrait – he told people afterward that he had been there, talking ... and that I had just gone on with my work, and had paid no attention to him whatever.' 2

1873: On 29 July 1873 William Allingham (1824-1889) noted in his diary that sittings were then continuing, and Whistler, who had 'begun by asking two or three sittings ... managed to get a great many' until Carlyle rebelled – he seemed only concerned 'to get the coat painted to ideal perfection, the face went for little.' 3 The Pennells record that either the painter Philip Richard Morris (1836-1902) or his father eventually had to sit for the coat. 4

Two letters from Mary Carlyle (1848-1895), née Aitken, the niece of Thomas Carlyle, refer to sittings, but are not, unfortunately, dated. In one letter she postpones a sitting, and writes:

'My Uncle bids me say ... that he is very sorry he must give up his appointment with you this morning. He is not well enough to risk going out in the rain, even in a cab, but I hope there will be no difficulties in the way of his sitting next week.

We are a republic here; & the housekeeper (who probably asked for it with my compliments) sent for the cloak yesterday without consulting the owner of it - only out of a spontaneous feeling that it would be warmer for my Uncle than his own.' 5

And she also wrote that Carlyle liked the developing portrait:

'I write this little note out of a good spirit to tell you that even my Uncle is beginning to be impressed with the portrait; he remarked to me when he returned from his last sitting "that he really couldn't help observing that it was going to be very like him, and that there was a certain massive originality about the whole thing, which was rather impressive!" ' 6

1874: It was first exhibited in Mr Whistler's Exhibition, Flemish Gallery, 48 Pall Mall, London, 1874 (cat. no. 6) as 'Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, "Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2".'


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 137).

2: Pennell 1921C [more], pp. 170, 174.

3: Allingham and Radford 1907 [more].

4: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 171; Pennell 1921C [more], p. 104.

5: [1872/1873], GUW #07563.

6: [1872/1873], GUW #07564.

Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret