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

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Portrait of Miss Laura Barr

Portrait of Miss Laura Barr dates from between 1894 and 1895. 1

According to the Academy, when the sitter's father, Robert Barr (1849-1912), was sitting to Whistler:

'Happening one day to find it convenient and knowing how pleased Mr. Whistler would be, Mr. Barr took with him to the studio his daughter, Miss Laura Barr, then quite a child ... Mr. Whistler expressed a desire to paint a portrait of Miss Barr; consent was easily secured, and for the next few months the dainty child with the wonderful hair was almost daily in the studio ... the picture progressed and with it the enthusiasm of the painter, who gradually came to regard it with peculiar affection.' 2

According to Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), it was painted in his studio at 13 Robert Street. 3 That was probably between December 1894, when Whistler returned to London from Paris, and March 1895, when Whistler left London to attend the Eden trial in Paris. 4 According to Mrs Barr, she accompanied her daughter to Sickert's studio each day:

'Mr. Whistler added the "Butterfly" during the last few minutes he was in the studio before he left for Paris to attend his famous "suit". My daughter and I left the studio with Mr. Whistler, and the picture was still "wet" and could not have been packed that night this is without a possibility of injury. Mr. Whistler did not return again to the studio before he left for Paris.' 5

Again according to the Academy,

'Then came a summons for the artist to go to Paris. After some hesitation he declared that he would not go without his precious picture, which was accordingly prepared for shipment. From the time of this journey no trace of the canvas has been discovered. A wealthy American, a common friend of Mr. Whistler and Mr. Barr, had for some time been most anxious to purchase the portrait, but the painter had no recollection of when or where he had seen the work since his arrival in Paris. Artist and would-be owner visited Paris together and made every enquiry within their power, but without success. The death of Mr. Whistler's wife at about this time made it seem indelicate to worry him about other matters, and the search was abandoned.' 6

Pennell thought it was painted in Whistler's studio at 8 Fitzroy Street and implied, probably wrongly, that it dated from 1896, the year of Beatrice Whistler's death. 7


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 429).

2: Anon., ' “The Lost Whistler” – concerning the portrait of Miss Laura Barr, daughter of Robert Barr', The Academy, vol. 65, 10 October 1903, p. 390.

3: Sickert 1910 [more]. Sickert 1911 [more].

4: Whistler to Mrs Barr, [January/February 1895], GUW #08489.

5: Mrs Barr to Joseph Pennell, 29 July 1910, Pennell Collection, Library of Congress. See also Whistler to Mrs Barr, [January/March 1895], GUW #00487.

6: Academy, 10 October 1903, op. cit.

7: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, p. 170.

Last updated: 3rd April 2020 by Margaret