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

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Rose et vert: L'Iris – Portrait of Miss Kinsella

Rose et vert: L'Iris – Portrait of Miss Kinsella dates from between June 1894 and 1902. 1

Rose et vert: L'Iris – Portrait of Miss Kinsella, Terra Foundation for American Art
Rose et vert: L'Iris – Portrait of Miss Kinsella, Terra Foundation for American Art

1894: The portrait was started in Paris in June 1894. 2 On 13 July Whistler wrote, 'The Kinsella portrait is begun and promises superbly.' 3

1895: In November Whistler was in Lyme Regis but had written to 'the yaller Kinsella' that he hoped to continue sittings on his return to London later in the month. 4 Writing to Miss Kinsella he asserted that the delays would not damage progress on the picture:

'When the work is completed and is beautiful as this picture cannot help being, all that will be forgotten - and it is only the outside world that will have waited! -

In this case, curiously enough, time will have been gained - for I have been going through a rare training lately - of which, I promise, you shall reap the benefit -

I have been also in a manner painting your portrait every day! - so that when I come to you we shall finish it in a trice.' 5

1896: In June he was painting Miss Kinsella in London. 6 He wrote on 15 June suggesting a sitting:

'if you think you would like to stand on Thursday, and could come in the morning - say at eleven o'clock, I could get ready for that day -

I would propose that you might stay until about 3 o'clock or so - resting as much as you like and taking it "easy"!' 7

And again on 2 July, he wrote to her:

'I have had quite an inspiration about your picture -

The result will be, I think, something remarkable ...

Monday we had better say in any case - though if, I can manage it, we might try and get a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon from 2. o'clock - if that would be convenient.' 8

Two days later he wrote to the sitter postponing a sitting, and saying that he had shown the portrait to John Singer Sargent (1856-1925):

'Tomorrow wont do - for I could not be ready with what I want for the picture yet - though I hope to manage by tuesday -

For this much I will say - the change is not at all in you - Indeed I am so very much pleased with yourself in the picture that today I showed the portrait to Sargent! - He came to see me - and you know I dont show my things - but I couldn't resist it! - He was I really believe very much struck - He said it is very beautiful - and I must say I admired it myself quite recklessly for once - Certainly the pink lady stood up magnificently and looked back at us with the utmost calm and assurance - No - you are going on to the finish apparently with the greatest possible ease - very nearly approaching that finish as it is - and if I can only get what I want the painting promises to be remarkable -

In short the combination, as I now have thought it out, is one that I doubt [not] has never been made at all -

I certainly have never seen any thing of the kind in any large work - I mean that perhaps in some of the tiny pastels I may have hinted at something like the crispness and sparkle I have now in my mind but a full length portrait is a very different matter.' 9

On 7 July he asked for another sitting: 'I have managed to keep the drapery as it stands - and I think the painting will be dry enough - for Thursday - day after tomorrow - So do come - 10.30 - for 11. in the morning.' 10 Then, on 21 July he heard of her imminent departure from London:

'Now this is a shock! -

I certainly think that I must see you, and we ought to get one or two more sittings this week - before you go - Will you come in tomorrow at 2. o'clock? - ...

I bought an old chasuble of a lovely colour on purpose.' 11

On 24 July Whistler complained to E. G. Kennedy that 'the ways of Miss Kinsella's are ... most terrible and trying to me' and she was planning to return to France for four months,

' ... this picture which we have lugged over from Paris and got accustomed to in the London studio - where it is upon the eve of completion - and to take it back to the studio in the rue Notre Dame du Champs would mean I really don't know what! - Change of light - doubt and heaven knows what else - ruin of the work almost unless I can get it so much further on that nothing should matter - so that I am necessarily again a mere slave to the situation - for I consider the picture, as a work, one of the most important, if not the most important I have ever undertaken -

Therefore I put everything else aside until I shall get from her the next three or four sittings.' 12

She was, apparently, still in London in August and Whistler actually wrote postponing a sitting:

'I am thinking that after all our lovely picture ought to have a day or twos rest! -

Let us all profit by it - and say Monday - We dont want the canvas to lose any of its bloom - ... and if you like to ask the others up ... we can show them the "Iris" lady on Monday evening or Tuesday!' 13

Whistler planned to continue working on the portrait in London in September 1896 but it is not certain that he did so. 14

1897: According to Pennell, the portrait, having been started in the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs about 1894, was being worked on at the studio in Fitzroy Street in April 1897, 'when it was so perfect that one more day's work seemed to us a danger', but it was ruined by all Whistler's scraping down and repainting. 15

In March Whistler asked Miss Kinsella for two more sittings, 'and then I think we may consider the work complete!!' because it was close to the Salon submission date and 'I should like . . greatly! to see you in the Champs de Mars!' 16 Unfortunately, he became ill and had to abandon this plan. 17 In November sittings were continued briefly in Paris. 18

1898: Whistler continued to suffer ill health, although he hoped to continue sittings in Paris, and wrote to Miss Kinsella: 'When you run up to Paris do let me know - and you might perhaps come in some afternoon at about 5. to the Atelier.' 19

1902: The painting was still in progress in May and June. On 9 June Whistler invited Miss Kinsella to tea in the studio, '[to] meet again The beautiful lady who has been so long waiting for you? !' 20 But she waited in vain!


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 420).

2: B. Whistler to A. H. Studd, 27 June 1894, GUW #03169.

3: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 13 July 1894, GUW #09717.

4: Whistler to B. Whistler, [11 and 12 November 1895], GUW #06637 and #06638.

5: [12 November 1895], GUW #13785.

6: Whistler to D. D. Haden, [7/14 June 1896], GUW #11235.

7: [15 June 1896], GUW #02446.

8: [2 July 1896], GUW #02447.

9: [4 July 1896], GUW #02448.

10: 7 July [1896], GUW #11045.

11: [21 July 1896], GUW #02450.

12: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [24 July 1896], GUW #09758.

13: [14 August 1896], GUW #02451.

14: Whistler to R. Birnie Philip, [10 and 19 September 1896], GUW #04667 and #04675

15: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, pp. 157-58, 187, 279. See also Whistler to E. R. Pennell, [24/28 February 1897], GUW #07829.

16: [19 March 1897], GUW #11050.

17: Whistler to Miss Kinsella, [28 April 1897], GUW #11060.

18: Whistler to Miss Kinsella, [3 November 1897], GUW #11054.

19: [17 April 1898], GUW #11058.

20: [9 June 1902], GUW #13784.

Last updated: 25th November 2020 by Margaret