The provenance of the painting is more complex than the location of the work suggests, because it served as a security for diverse debts, and the copyright was sold separately.
Apparently the sitter did not want to purchase his portrait. Théodore Duret (1838-1927) remembered that it was priced at 400 guineas at the 1877 Grosvenor Gallery exhibition. 1 The following months record a variety of possible prices but no completed transaction. According to Howell's executrix, Alice Mary Chambers (1854-1920), Whistler authorised Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890) to sell the portrait for £102.10.0 and gave Howell a receipt for that amount. 2 On 9 October 1877 Whistler offered to sell the portrait with copyright to Howell for £1000, his asking price being otherwise 1200 guineas. 3 In February 1878 it was offered through Howell to Jonathon Blott (b. ca 1847), oil and colourman, as security for a loan of £150. 4 Blott may have been involved in depositing the painting with H. Graves and Co. for publication of an engraving. Howell had by then bought the copyright of Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle [YMSM 137] from Whistler for £80 (plus, when printed, six proofs) of a planned mezzotint of the portrait. 5
The mezzotint was to be engraved by Richard Josey (1840-1906) and published by H. Graves & Co. 6 On 30 September 1878 H. Graves & Co. lent Whistler £120 on the security of Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, and by 9 February 1881 Whistler owed them £300, of which he then repaid £50 as a down payment on the repurchase of his painting. 7
On 15 August 1882 Whistler offered the portrait of Carlyle to John Craibe Angus (1861-1910), Glasgow dealer, for 500 guineas. 8 According to M. D. Macaulay, Angus 'had the promise of £100 from Andrew Carnegie, of Pittsburgh' but failed to persuade other 'customers to raise the necessary £400 to purchase the Carlyle portrait.' 9
On 3 October 1884 the art critic and cartoonist George Roland Halkett (1855-1918) wrote to The Scotsman urging the purchase of Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. 10 He was seconded by the artist William Brassey Hole (1846-1917) on the following day. 11 However, the subsequent subscription form disclaimed approval of Whistler's art and theories and, according to the Pennells, Whistler telegraphed to Edinburgh, 'The price of the Carlyle has advanced to one thousand guineas. Dinna ye hear the bagpipes?' 12 On 13 October 1884 Whistler wrote to Algernon Graves (1845-1922) reminding him that, although Whistler still owed £250, he owned the portrait and could dictate the price, which he wished to raise from 400 to 1000 guineas, and 'the Carlyle shall not be sold in Scotland for a stiver less than 1000 guineas.' 13 Halkett then wrote to Whistler that this made it impossible to buy the Carlyle by subscription. 14
The portrait was insured for £1000 at the Annual Exhibition of Sketches, Pictures & Photography: A Loan Collection of Pictures by Mr Whistler ..., Dublin Sketching Club, Dublin, 1884, which also served as a statement to support its new price. 15 About the same time Théodore Duret tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade a rich merchant from Dublin to buy it. 16
On 29 September 1887 Whistler paid Graves back £30, but the interest for 1881-1888 came to £98.2.6. 18 Algernon Graves (1845-1922) asked Whistler to send more money before F. Haines & Co. varnished the Carlyle for the International Exhibition, Kelvingrove, Glasgow, 1888. 19 In November 1888 A. Graves, who was charging 5 per cent interest, asked Whistler to consider giving the firm a proportion of the profit to be expected from its increased value, and Whistler promised a further payment of £100. 20
Early in 1891 a new initiative to buy the painting for a Scottish public collection gained momentum when the painter Edward Arthur Walton (1860-1922) wrote to ask Whistler if the portrait of Carlyle was still for sale, and proposed to raise a petition urging the Corporation of the City of Glasgow to buy it. 21 Whistler finally retrieved the painting from H. Graves & Co. on 29 January 1891 on payment of £220, and deposited it with his lawyer George Henry Lewis (1833-1911) after it had been cleaned and varnished. 22 Thereafter Whistler wrote to Walton that he was gratified with the support shown and would keep the price for the 'portrait of their great countryman' at 1000 guineas (£1050), the price at which it had been offered at International Exhibition, Kelvingrove, Glasgow, 1888. 23 The petition was handed in to the Corporation of Glasgow on 27 February 1891. 24 Whistler sent for the portrait on 2 March 1891. 25 A deputation from the purchasing committee of the Corporation of Glasgow visited Whistler in London, and, according to the Pennells, offered him £800 before agreeing to Whistler's price. 26 Whistler assured them it was in perfect condition, in a frame designed by himself, and he would send it to Glasgow through the South Kensington Museum. 27 The purchase was announced and the cheque sent to Whistler on 2 April 1891. 28 There was a lot of press coverage of the negotiations and the successful sale, both in Scotland and the south. The Bristol Mercury, for example, announced :'MR. WHISTLER TRIUMPHS. The Glasgow Town Council have unanimously approved of the purchase of Mr Whistler's portrait of Thomas Carlyle for the sum of 1000 guineas.' 29
The drawing on the recto of r.: Portrait sketch of Thomas Carlyle; v.: Head [M.0462] may also have been exhibited, with the oil, at Whistler's one-man shown in 1874 (cat. no. 32). 'The principal works in the Exhibition are seven life-size portraits, of which the first to arrest attention is the recently-executed portrait of Thomas Carlyle', wrote the art critic of the York Herald. 31 The oil was highly thought of by the artist, and repeatedly exhibited from 1874 on.
In 1877 it was exhibited in the entrance hall to the Grosvenor Gallery, separately from Whistler's other exhibits. The Rutland Echo and Leicestershire Advertiser commented that it had 'considerable force, though, like his other works, it looks half washed out.' 32 The Daily Telegraph and Courier, after dismissing Whistler's group of paintings as 'weird productions', praised the 'really grand and touching portrait of Thomas Carlyle … a very striking and eloquent presentment of the illustrious historian … painted throughout with a refreshing absence from that eccentricity in which Mr. Whistler seems habitually to delight.' 33
The Illustrated London News on 12 May 1877 commented that the inclusion of Whistler's portrait gave visitors an opportunity to compare it with the portrait of Carlyle by Alphonse Legros (1837-1911), which is now in the National Galleries of Scotland. As a result of its inclusion in the Grosvenor exhibition, Whistler's portrait was included in the paintings shown during the Whistler v. Ruskin trial in November 1878 at the Westminster Palace Hotel. At the end of the trial, it was shown in the premises of H. Graves & Co. together with Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101]. 34
In 1884, at Whistler's request, Théodore Duret (1838-1927) escorted the portrait to Paris for the Salon and returned it to H. Graves & Co. afterwards. 35 In the same year it went to the Royal Scottish Academy, where it was skied. It was considered for purchase but rejected by George Scharf (1820-1895), director of the National Portrait Gallery. 36
Several uncatalogued shows followed: Whistler's 1889 retrospective organised by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), a small exhibition at Goupil's, 38 and another in Glasgow, after the painting was purchased in 1891. 39
The two pages of reviews published by Whistler in the catalogue entry for Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle at the Goupil Gallery in 1892 covered a wide range of opinions, from the comment by Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) that Whistler had 'recorded on a doleful canvas the head and figure of Carlyle', to an indignant report (published in the New York Tribune on 17 January 1892) that the portrait had received many honours abroad and been purchased by the City of Glasgow, but while another portrait (Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101]) 'is received with high honour in the Luxembourg on its way to the Louvre; … at that very moment another work of his, worthy to rank with the first, is hoist with equally high disrespect to the ceiling of a gallery in London' at the New Gallery (1891-1892).
In 1893 the committee of the World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893 considered borrowing the painting but did not, as the insurance costs were too high. 40 However, it was frequently lent to exhibitions in Scotland and elsewhere during Whistler's lifetime, and is still much in demand today.
2: A. M. Chambers to J. Pennell, 7 January 1907, LC PC.
29: 'Mr Whistler Triumphs', Bristol Mercury, Bristol, 4 April 1891, p. 8. See also ‘Mr. Whistler’s Portrait of Carlyle’, Dundee Evening Telegraph, Dundee, 23 March 1891, p. 2; 'Mr. Whistler and the Glasgow Corporation', Pall Mall Gazette, London, 24 March 1891, p. 3; ‘Mr. Whistler’s Portrait of Carlyle’, Morning Post, London, 3 April 1891, p. 5.
30: A. Graves to Whistler, 16 May 1891, GUW #01833; see also David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) to Whistler, 7 April 1892; GUW #05717. It was reproduced in the Pall Mall Budget, London, 9 April 1891, frontispiece, by permission of Messrs Henry Graves.
31: 'Mr. Whistler's Pictures', York Herald, York, 9 June 1874, p. 6.
33: 'The Grosvenor Gallery', Daily Telegraph and Courier, London, 1 May 1877, p. 5.
38: 'The Whistler Exhibition,' Evening News, London, 19 May 1889 (press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 10, p. 91); Anon., 'Two Minor Exhibitions,' London Evening Standard, London, 19 May 1889, p. 5.
Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret