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

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Portrait of Mrs William Heinemann

Portrait of Mrs William Heinemann dates from between 1900 and 1902. 1

1899: The sitter’s husband, the London publisher William Heinemann (1863-1920), commissioned a portrait of his wife Magda Stuart Sindici (Mrs W. Heinemann) (b. 1878, m. 1899). In May or June Whistler wrote to Heinemann: 'Tell your wife, with my best compliments, ... that I will think out an Oval of herself that shall embody our indignation at neglected Beauty and Genius!!' 2

1900: The portrait was probably started in Paris in 1900. When a sitting was postponed, Whistler wrote to Mrs Heinemann:

'I have just read your note ... and I can assure you that I also was hugely disappointed ...

I had prepared everything - and was in the best of moods ...

I did so want to cover that canvas entirely today! - I cannot say about Saturday yet - but if you like, we might have a good couple of hours on Friday - if you appear at a quarter past 2. in the afternoon?' 3

1901: The portrait may have been continued in England. On 5 November 1901 Whistler asked his sisters-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) and Ethel Whibley (1861-1920), to send some curtains he was using as a background from 110 rue du Bac, Paris, to him in London, adding that 'besides the Violet curtains I should like the pair of green that belong to the Atelier ... they are the background to Cowan's picture - & to Mrs Vanderbilts & Mr Heinemann's too.' 4 In December he wrote from Bath to Mrs Heinemann,

‘I trust you are in buoyant spirits and satisfied with your beauty? the bella Mafia is so exacting! -

I think of coming up again on Monday - and we might perhaps, if it pleases, find a sitting or two for the Oval - in that dress, or another - ? What do you think.' 5

1902: According to the Pennells, Whistler 'was anxious to continue the portrait started a year or so before of Mrs. Heinemann, a lovely harmony which needed for its completion only a few more sittings, but ... these could not be arranged.' 6

Instead, Heinemann turned to another artist. On 23 June 1902 Leandro R. Garrido (1869–1909) wrote that ‘Mr. Heinemann proposes I should stay with him in Wimbledon in August and ... paint his wife’s portrait. It seems Whistler has been on that job for the last two years and keeps her posing from 9 to 5 p.m.’ 7

However, occasional sittings with Whistler continued. According to Pennell, at a dinner party on 29 November 1902 Whistler arranged with Mrs Heinemann for a sitting the following Tuesday. 8 At some time, probably in 1902, when Heinemann told Whistler his wife could not come to pose, the artist replied,

'Pity! - for I meant the picture to be beautiful - as it has every right to be! - and the Arrangement is so new! -

... the hand is stayed - and the work ceases - for the joy of it has gone! and the mystery of it has flown forever!' 9

1903: By this time the Heinemanns had parted (Heinemann filed for divorce in the following year). On 6 February Whistler mentioned the portrait to the Pennells: ‘She has not come to sit and have her portrait finished, which is crime enough for any thing.’ 10


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 531).

2: [29 May/June 1899], GUW #11287.

3: [January 1900/1901], GUW #08571.

4: [5 November 1901], GUW #04826.

5: [December 1901], GUW #08549.

6: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, pp. 291-92.

7: Quigley, J., Leandro Ramon Garrido: His Life and Art, London, 1913, p. 79.

8: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 265.

9: [1902/1903], GUW #08586.

10: Pennell 1921, op. cit., p. 276.

Last updated: 3rd January 2021 by Margaret