Arrangement in Black, No. 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain dates from 1876. 1
Whistler asked Henry Irving (1838-1905) to pose after seeing him as Philip II (1527-1598) of Spain in Tennyson's historical drama Queen Mary, which had a brief run at the Lyceum Theatre, London, from 18 April to 13 May 1876. The portrait was seen in an early state on 1 May 1876 by Alan Summerly Cole (1846-1934), who wrote in his diary, 'To Whistler who had painted some living portraits most rapidly - one of Irving as Philip. J. W. quite and madly enthusiastic about his power of painting such full lengths in two sittings or so.' 2
Irving told Mortimer Luddington Menpes (1860-1938) that after twenty sittings, the canvas was 'swept and bare, except for a small piece of linen', but, said Whistler, 'who save the Master could have painted that linen?' 3
During The Grasshopper, a farce by John Hollingshead (1827-1904) performed at the Gaiety Theatre from 1877-1878, a painting by Gordon Thompson called The Apotheosis of Henry Irving, after Whistler was shown on stage in the studio of Pygmalion Flippit, 'An Artist of the Future' described as being a 'Harmonist in colours - in black and white, for example'. Whistler went several times to the play, enjoying Flippit's performance as well as the legs of Ellen ('Nellie') Farren (1848-1904). 4
In May 1885 Whistler wrote asking Irving to visit the Society of British Artists to 'see my picture of Sarasate - and let that show you what I meant your picture to be', and then arrange sittings 'for a day or two at my new studio' to complete it. 5 However, it is unlikely that any further work was done on the portrait at this time.
2: Ms copies, with minor variations, in GUW #13132 and #03432; partly quoted and dated 5 May by Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, pp. 199-200 (on p. 199, it wrongly states that Whistler asked Irving to pose after seeing him as Philip II in 1874).
Last updated: 7th June 2021 by Margaret