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

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Portrait of William M. Chase

Portrait of William M. Chase dates from the summer of 1885. 1

According to Roof, William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) wrote to Alice Bremond Gerson Chase (1866-1927) in 1885, 'Whistler has begun a full length portrait of me, and I will stay to enable him to finish it', and a month later, 'He is most finished with my portrait.' 2 According to Chase:

'It was arranged that whichever was specially in the mood was to paint while the other posed. Whistler, I speedily found, was always "specially in the mood," and as a consequence, I began posing at once, and continued to pose. He proved to be a veritable tyrant, painting every day into the twilight, while my limbs ached with weariness and my head swam dizzily. "Don't move! Don't move!" he would scream whenever I started to rest.' 3

The Pennells dated the portrait incorrectly as about 1886/1887, and described it as 'a full-length ... in frock-coat and top hat, a cane held jauntily across his legs ... The portrait has never been seen since, but has vanished with many another.' 4

The portrait was nearly finished about a week before Whistler and Chase left for Holland in August 1885. Whistler wrote to Chase on the eve of the latter's departure for America later that autumn, expressing disappointment that the portrait was 'not in its perfect condition' and thus not to be taken away by Chase, and adding, 'Therefore ... I shall keep the picture here and bring it over with me [to New York] to finish in your studio.' 5 On 3 September 1885 Chase wrote to Whistler begging him not to continue if he did not wish to:

'If this portrait is prooving [sic] a dreadful [bore?] to you & there is any danger of your coming to hate the very sight of me? I beg you to give it up, and forget that it was ever begun. My only thought in asking you to paint me was that you might feel perfect liberty to do as you like.' 6

Whistler never went to America again, and the painting disappeared without trace.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 322).

2: Roof, Katharine Metcalf, The life and art of William Merritt Chase, New York, 1917, pp. 112, 114, 140-42.

3: Chase 1910 [more], at p. 220.

4: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, pp. 26, 29-30.

5: Whistler to Chase, [1 September 1885], GUW #13337.

6: 3 September 1885, GUW #00593.

Last updated: 3rd January 2021 by Margaret