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

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Rose and Gold: 'Pretty Nellie Brown'

Sittings for Rose and Gold: 'Pretty Nellie Brown' took place from 1896 to 1897, but Whistler appears to have continued to work on it until he declared it finished in 1900. 1

1896: It was commissioned by the sitter's father, Ernest George Brown (1851-1915), an art dealer, then at The Fine Art Society. It was started in Whistler's studio at Fitzroy Street, London, in the winter of 1896. On 27 October Whistler postponed a sitting, writing to Mrs Brown:

'I am afraid that after all I shall not be ready for the little Nellie tomorrow - which is a disappointment to me - as I am very fond of her picture -

However it will be really all the better for the few days rest - & time to dry -

… With kindest remembrances to my little sitter, whose hair you must n't cut!' 2

Rose and Gold: 'Pretty Nellie Brown', Philadelphia Museum of Art
Rose and Gold: 'Pretty Nellie Brown', Philadelphia Museum of Art

1897: On 12 June Whistler wrote that 'Rose and Brown' was nearly finished and set a price of 450 guineas. 3 On 5 July 1897 Whistler asked Mrs Brown if a further sitting could take place on the following day:

'I wonder if it be at all possible for the little Miss Nellie to come to me for a couple of hours tomorrow morning?

If you can forgive such an abrupt notice as this perhaps Nellie might come in with her Papa - say at ten o'clock or half past - and if you were not too much hurried you might come afterwards and so we could lunch or rather déjeuner at 12 o'clock -

I should not keep Nellie later than half past one o'clock.' 4

1898: On 4 October Brown asked Whistler for the portrait:

'Will you please allow the bearer to have the picture "Rose and Brown". The cheque for £450 guineas less 10% shall not be "retarded" It is a beautiful picture and I think the purchaser very lucky to get it.' 5

However, Whistler did not send him the portrait, and may have continued to work on it.

1900: On 17 May he wrote that he had completed the picture and asked for 600 gns:

'Here you have the "little Nellie - Rose & Red" -

You must not nibble the corner of my cheque! - for you see how beautifully I have brought the picture together

Send me the six hundred guineas clean -

and ask what you like yourselves.' 6

Eventually, commenting 'see how pretty the little picture is after what I have done', Whistler accepted £600 while retaining his copyright. 7


1: Originally dated 1895-1897, YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 451).

2: Whistler to Mrs Brown, [27 0ctober 1896], GUW #03653; also Whistler to E. Brown, 28 November [1896], GUW #03640, and to Mrs Brown, [30 November 1896], GUW #03659.

3: Whistler to Brown, 12 June 1897, GUW #03647.

4: Whistler to Mrs Brown, 5 July [1897], GUW #03633.

5: GUW #01357.

6: Whistler to E. Brown, [17 May 1900], GUW #03654.

7: Whistler to E. Brown, 19 and 24 May 1900, GUW #03638, #03641.

Last updated: 17th October 2020 by Margaret