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

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Portrait of E. G. Kennedy (2)

Portrait of E. G. Kennedy (2) dates from 1893-1895.

According to Kennedy it was painted as thanks for services rendered, and he posed in Whistler's top floor studio in the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Paris, with the temperature in the nineties Fahrenheit. 1

1893: An earlier version was started in the summer of 1893 (see Portrait of E. G. Kennedy (1) [YMSM 403]) and Kennedy asked Whistler if he could take 'the picture' back to America, returning with it in the following year 'if you care to take it up again', but, he added:

'As for the Standing one, there is not much to do to it, & that can be done some time next year when the weather is not so warm as to threaten the voyageur with rabies when under the roof of 89 rue des petits Champs.' 2

Whistler agreed, but nothing more was heard of the first painting, and it seems that it was 'the Standing one' that was continued in 1894.

1894: Whistler still had the second portrait of Kennedy in his studio. When they heard that the art dealer was planning to return in April 1894, Beatrice Whistler wrote: 'Mr Whistler will be very pleased to see you - if you come in April. He has been looking at your little portrait, and is very pleased with [it].' 3 In fact it was May when Kennedy arrived in London. On 20 May he wrote that he assumed that the portrait, which they called 'OK', needed one more 'standing', and he suggested the second week in June. 4

According to Kennedy, he posed in the garden on one foot like 'John of Bologna's "Mercury" '; he complained that 'my hindfoot seemed asleep at times and the hip bone of that leg had run up to my right shoulder blade', and finally he took the portrait away to London still wet:

'I unpacked "O'K." when I arrived. He is all right & by the time I start he will be dry, so that no risk will be run in transportation. I think that when the times Comes to put on varnish, he will look better. I am now looking around for something to prevent hair from falling out, as I fear if it goes as it has been going lately, that next year I shall be able to part it with a towel. This anxiety on my part is aroused by the magic sentence from your lips: "Next year I'll paint your portrait in one sitting, sitting." In my mind's eye, I see myself sitting with a bland, "I'm not fatigued at all, thank you" expression, as bland as Sir Seymour Haden, when he notices the bobs of the Country people in Hampshire as he drives along the Queen's highway. So mote it be!' 5

In New York it was framed, and Kennedy told Whistler 'it looks very well. The face must be finished however, as the clothes are.' 6 And in another letter he added:

'The portrait of O'K. has retouching varnish on it, and looks well, except that it wants a trifle more modelling on the face, but the Colour is fine, in short it is very "swell" in Every way, and when you put a few touches on the phiz - I tell you none of your works can be held as superior to it.' 7

1895: It was continued in Paris the following summer, at Whistler's request. 8 In June Whistler, with difficulty, arranged sittings 'to complete the little O.K' when he was not working on the Portrait of Miss Marion Peck [YMSM 439]. 9 Kennedy wanted his portrait sent to America but Whistler prevaricated, 'The small O K had better go on drying where he is - for the present.' 10 The artist next wrote on 12 July 1895: 'The little O K. must be packed separately - but shall go at once'; to this letter Kennedy, then en route to America, added a note, ' "The little O K." alludes to my portrait by Whistler which is a replica of a former one not so good but which was put aside. Same composition.' 11 Kennedy agreed to bring the portrait back to Europe, 'I shall bring the O'K - over next year again for reparation to his upper lip which looks like a hare lip somewhat. Otherwise is all right.' 12

1896: However, Kennedy wrote to Whistler on 14 April 1896 refusing to bring the painting back: 'No, no, you wiped out the distinguished O'K. and the other remains here, such as he is. I'll send him to you if you like, if you do another one but not standing and not so small.' 13

1900: On 27 February Kennedy suggested ironically that he would 'bring over Whistler's portrait of O'K. & have him paint English mutton chop whiskers on it.' 14 He didn't!


1: Letter to H. W. Kent, [1909], Metropolitan Museum of Art archives.

2: Kennedy to Whistler, 9 July 1893, GUW #07219. Whistler's reply, [12 July 1893], GUW #07220.

3: [March 1894], GUW #09697.

4: GUW #07233; [May/June 1894], GUW #07234.

5: Kennedy to Whistler, 17 June 1894, GUW #07235.

6: Kennedy to Whistler, 2 October 1894, GUW #07237.

7: Kennedy to Whistler, 2 November 1894, GUW #07240.

8: [22 February 1895], GUW #09723.

9: Whistler to Kennedy, [9 June 1895] and [18 June 1895], GUW #09727 and #09728; Kennedy to Whistler, 12 June 1895, GUW #07251.

10: [2-4 July 1895], GUW #09729. Kennedy to Whistler, 9 July 1895, GUW #07253.

11: GUW #09732.

12: 30 August-15 September 1895, GUW #07259.

13: GUW #07278.

14: GUW #07321.

Last updated: 4th December 2020 by Margaret