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

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Portrait of Robert Barr

Portrait of Robert Barr dates from 1894/1895. 1

According to the Academy, it was painted when Whistler was under 'mental strain', probably when his wife was diagnosed with cancer in 1894. The Academy reported as follows:

'Some years ago, at a time when Mr. Whistler was suffering great mental strain, it became customary for some of his intimate friends to visit him as frequently as possible, with the idea of keeping him interested and cheerful. Among these friends was Mr. Robert Barr, who saw the artist almost daily and who sat as model as frequently and patiently as his own busy life would allow.' 2

Then, Whistler asked if he could paint Barr's daughter (Portrait of Miss Laura Barr [YMSM 429]), and so Barr was freed 'from the somewhat trying duty of constantly sitting to be studied and sketched.' 3

Portrait of Robert Barr, Detroit Institute of Arts
Portrait of Robert Barr, Detroit Institute of Arts

Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) stated that he saw Whistler at work on a portrait of Barr, and it is probable that, like Portrait of Miss Laura Barr [YMSM 429], it was painted in Sickert's studio at 13 Robert Street, between December 1894 and March 1895. 4 Barr's wife, Eva Bennett (Mrs Robert Barr) (d. ca 1919), confirmed that it was painted in 'a studio in Robert St.' and stated that Whistler made 'many studies if him & this one was chosen out of several.' 5


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 428).

2: Academy, 10 October 1903 [more].

3: Ibid.

4: Sickert, Walter, 'Where Paul and I differ', Art News, No. 14, 10 February 1910, p. 113; W. Sickert 2000 [more], p. 195.

5: Mrs Barr to E. R. Pennell, 3 December 1914, E. R. & J. Pennell Collection, Library of Congress.

Last updated: 16th October 2020 by Margaret