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

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Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder


Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Arrangement in Brown and Black. Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder' (1879, Grosvenor). 2
  • 'Arrangement en noir: Portrait de Mlle. de C' (1883, Petit). 3
  • 'Arrangement en noir no. 5. Portrait de Mademoiselle de C' (1884, Les XX). 4
  • 'Arrangement in brown and black' (1884, International and Universal Exhibition, London). 5
  • 'Arrangement en noir' (1888, Durand-Ruel). 6
  • 'Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder' (1890, Christie's). 7
  • 'Arrangement en noir: No. 7' (1891, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts). 8
  • 'Arrangement in Black and Brown. Miss Rosa Corder' (1892, Goupil). 9
  • 'Portrait of Rosa Corder' (1897, Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen). 10
  • 'Arrangement in Black – Rosa Corda' [sic] (1898, ISSPG). 11
  • 'Rosa Corder' (1902, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). 12
  • 'Arrangement in Black and Brown. "Miss Rosa Corder" ' (1904, Copley Society, Boston). 13
  • 'Arrangement in Black and Brown. Rosa Corder' (1905, Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Paris). 14
  • 'Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder' (1980, YMSM). 15

Although in 1884 Whistler called this painting the fifth in his sequence of 'Arrangements in Black', he also gave that title to a portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell in 1885 (Arrangement in Black: La Dame au brodequin jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell [YMSM 242]), and confused matters further by later exhibiting them both as 'Arrangement in Black, No. 7' (see also Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland [YMSM 097]). In 1892 he reverted to the original title of 'Brown and Black', which is now usually accepted. 'Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder' is thus the preferred title.


Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder, Frick Collection
Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder, Frick Collection

A full length portrait of a woman, in vertical format. She stands in profile to right, against a black background. Her dark brown hair is gathered up in heavy rolls around the back of her head. She is dressed in a black riding habit, with her right hand, in a grey glove, holding a wide-brimmed hat with a sweeping feather.


Rosa Corder, photograph, private collection
Rosa Corder, photograph, private collection

Rosa Frances Corder (1853-1893) was a pupil of Felix Moscheles, and Whistler taught her etching.

She was the mistress of Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), and from him she learned to make copies of eighteenth-century portraits and, apparently, of pornographic drawings by Fuseli, and possibly of drawings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and Whistler. 16

A drypoint of her by Mortimer Luddington Menpes (1860-1938) was given by Howell to the British Museum in 1880. 17

She painted horses and people, and her sitters included Algernon Graves (1845-1922) in 1878, and Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892) in 1882. 18


Walford Graham Robertson (1867-1948) described Rosa Corder: 'Her hair was a curious pale brown ... and she was gentle and crushed-looking ... the Whistler picture ... makes her proud and stately.' 19

A detailed discussion of the portrait, 'Rosa Corder: The Artist as Model', by Susan Grace Galassi, appeared in the book Whistler, Women and Fashion, accompanying an exhibition at the Frick in 2003: 20

'In Arrangement in Brown and Black: Miss Rosa Corder, the subject stands with her back to the viewer in a dark atmospheric space ... Soft light focuses attention on her pale face turned in pure profile to reveal her straight nose, full lips, and strong chin. She looks to the right with an air of gravity. Her long brown hair is wound into two coils high on the back of her head in the fashion of the time ... It is difficult at first to detach her from the shadowy surroundings. Except for the white collar of her blouse and … white along the edge of her open jacket, her figure is set off from the background by only subtle differences in tone and the curved shapes and texture of her fur-trimmed jacket and sweeping skirt. But the allure of a beautiful and stylish young woman “almost drowning in darkness,” in the words of one observer, draws the viewer in. 21 Rosa’s vigorous contrapposto stance, the angle of her uptilted head, and the dynamic lines of her attire convey a sense of vitality and self-possession, while the gesture of her left arm, bent at the elbow with her hand resting on her hip, contributes a note of assertiveness.

The portrait forms part of Whistler's ongoing series of some twenty black paintings ... inspired in part by both Velázquez's dark portraits of members of the royal family as well as monochromatic Chinese painting. In his black portraits, Whistler pushed forward his search for greater purity of design and deeper connection with the inner spirit of his sitter.

The portrait of Rosa Corder has long been regarded as one of the artist's finest achievements. For the painter Sir William Rothenstein, it was “a triumph of unaffected ease.” Other commentators remarked on the serenity of the sitter: “It is one of the most noble feminine figures that one could encounter ... the model, serious, almost grave, displays a quiet authority, a mild serenity." 22 … Graham Robertson, who owned the portrait for a period and came to know the sitter as well, described her as a person of “beautiful stillness.” ...

Rosa later recounted to Robertson that she had “posed for it … some forty times, standing in a doorway with the darkness of a shuttered room beyond her; long sittings, lasting on two occasions until she fainted, and at last she had refused to go on with them.” An artist herself, commented Robertson, she could see the painting was finished “and struck for freedom.”

The Costume

According to the Pennells, Whistler is said to have arrived at the color scheme for the portrait of Rosa Corder when he saw her pass by one of the black doors of his studio in a brown suit. (In the painting, however, the suit is black, while the hat provides the note of brown.) In choosing to depict Rosa in up-to-date street wear, Whistler selected an identity for her as a modern urban woman, one of a new breed – among them artists – who were making their own way in the working world.

It has been said that Rosa posed in riding habit, which her suit closely resembles and would seem appropriate for her, given her involvement with horses. ...

The habit was ... enhanced by the provocative combination of aspects of male and female dress. Masculine tailoring, durable fabrics, and accessories adapted from men's wear, such as the top hat, are set off in the short, form-fitting jacket and long uncrinolined skirt of female riding attire, which reveal the natural lines of the body. ...

A woman in riding habit exuded vitality and boldness – she appeared stylish, yet remained outside the realm of fashion per se. Indeed, riding habit was traditionally made by male tailors ... Baudelaire, in his essay "The Painter of Modern Life," and Hippolyte Taine in his Notes sur l'Angleterre, praised the elegance of women en tenue amazone. Women in riding clothes appeared in the work of Manet, Degas, and Courbet. ...

The sleek black riding habit consists of a short, form-fitting jacket, pulled in at the waist and molded over hips, and a skirt which is flat in front, and gathered in simple pleats at the back of the waist, falling freely to the ground. A small, round hat trimmed with a feather completes the attire. ... the fabric of her suit appears to be one of the new lighter, supple wools used for women’s tailor-made suits, and it is trimmed with fur. ...

Rosa’s costume also has elements in common with fashionable outdoor wear of the period … The streak of white at the edge of Rosa’s open jacket suggests that it too may be lined with white fur, though it could also be the frill of a white blouse worn underneath. The walking suit’s skirt is trimmed with fur as well, and the fabric is tied back and caught up in a bustle below the hem of the jacket, terminating in a ruffled train of a darker color. Rosa's skirt, although simpler, also appears to be tied back in a low bustle beneath the edge of her jacket, and ends in a train.

... Unlike the more structured ensembles of high fashion with their padded jackets and long, narrow trailing skirts, Rosa’s attire allowed for comfort and freedom of movement, yet it retained elements of the purely fashionable, such as the train … [The] large, round feathered hat provides another focal point in the composition ... The warm brown of the hat echoes the color of her hair, while it repeats in a tighter curvilinear form the swirl of fabric around her feet. … Such hats appear frequently in portraits by Gainsborough, as, for instance, in A Morning Walk. ...

As an artist herself, Rosa would have been highly conscious of her image and worked with Whistler to create an aesthetic arrangement of shape and tone in which she appears both fashionable and modern, in a style that reflects the milieu in which she lived and worked. …

Rosa in her fur-trimmed black jacket and long, flowing skirt appears to be suspended between the fashionable wear of the dressmaker and the severity of the new tailor-made attire, just as the subject herself slipped between classes, between amateurism and professionalism, and between respectability and a more shadowy existence.' 23


1: Proof of subscription form for mezzotint, 1 January 1879, GUW #08868.

2: III Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1879 (cat. no. 54).

3: Exposition Internationale de Peinture, Galerie George Petit, Paris, 1883 (cat. no. 1).

4: Exposition internationale de peinture et de sculpture, Société des XX, Brussels, 1884 (cat. no. 1).

5: International and Universal Exhibition, Crystal Palace, London, 1884.

6: Exposition Brown, Boudin, Caillebotte, Lepine, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Whistler, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1888 (cat. no. 41).

7: Christie's, London, 13 November 1890 (lot 545).

8: 1st exhibition, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champs de Mars, Paris, 1891 (cat. no. 936).

9: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 22).

10: Den Internationale Kunstudstilling i København, Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1897 (cat. no. 199).

11: Exhibition of International Art, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Knightsbridge, London, 1898 (cat. no. 178).

12: 32nd Autumn Exhibition of Pictures, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1902 (cat. no. 1013).

13: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 25).

14: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 21).

15: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 203).

16: See for instance, Jones, Mark, Paul Craddock, and Nicholas Barker (eds), Fake? The Art of Deception, University of California Press, 1990.

17: British Museum, 1880, 0214.351.

18: Galassi, Susan Grace, 'The Artist as Model: Rosa Corder', in MacDonald 2003 [more], pp. 116-31.

19: Letter dated 5 November 1922, quoted by Preston 1953 [more], pp. 95, 368.

20: Galassi 2003, op. cit., pp. 119-31.

21: 'presque noyée des ténèbres', Siècle, 14 May 1891, GUL Whistler PC 11/43; Galassi 2003, op. cit., at p. 119.

22: Galassi, ibid. The quotation is a translation of 'C’est une des plus nobles figures féminines qu’on puisse rencontrer … le modèle, sérieux, jusqu’à la gravité, se manifeste avec une autorité calme, une sérénite pleine de douceur.' L'Echo de la Semaine, 24 May 1891; GUL Whistler PC11/47.

23: Galassi 2003, op. cit.

Last updated: 22nd April 2021 by Margaret