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

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Portrait of Miss Marian Draughn

Portrait of Miss Marian Draughn was being painted in 1899 and may have been continued in subsequent years. 1

According to the Pennells, ‘Miss Marian Draughn, a very beautiful American girl, began to sit to Whistler before he had finished his self-portrait.' 2 The self-portrait could have been either Brown and Gold [YMSM 440] or Gold and Brown [YMSM 462]. A letter in reply to one from the sitter confirms that Whistler was working on his own portrait at the same time, late in 1899:

The White Coon's letter is charming!! and I am so relieved! -

I feared my Florida Gurl [sic] had been destroyed! by my own reckless self! - Come to the Studio on Sunday -

We will invent more wonderful things!

Also I am rushing through the portrait - which is a marvel too - as you will see.' 3

On 18 November 1899 Whistler asked the sitter to come to his studio at 86 Rue Notre Dame des Champs, Paris, saying 'we will try and see what we may work out together.' 4 On 27 November he said he expected her the following Wednesday and had 'made it all right with that other man' (possibly she was supposed to model for another artist). 5

In December 1899 Whistler considered her portrait nearly completed and ready for exhibition at the Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galeries George Petit, Paris, 1899. Hoping to put the finishing touches to the picture, he pressed Miss Draughn to postpone an appointment with another artist:

'Now, you know, there come about certain master events before which all other matters at once are reduced to absolute unimportance!

Well then, Miss Marion - this is what immediately occurs in your own beautiful career!

Tomorrow I want you! That's all - and for once all other engagements must yield to this overwhelming truth! ...

The responsibility is mine - and mine will be the thinking - Mine also the task of straightening things out for you -

See now! the gods have sent you! - a Florida flower from over the seas - to me! Their painter - ...

Now then be at the Studio tomorrow by nine or as soon after as possible - if you want to have a good time tomorrow evening at the exhibition! I have sent all the others - and an empty frame in the centre! dat's for dat gurl!! -

She's looking wonderful - but just waiting for you!

We have swindled them out of another day - or at any rate another morning! but she wants it! I have done wonders to the picture today - but dat gurl is a calling out for mo' gold and rose leaves - and don't you disappoint her!' 6

Writing to Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) on 5 December 1899, Whistler sketched his panel of five pictures, including, in the centre, a full length portrait of a woman (almost certainly the portrait of Miss Draughn), which, he said, had arrived at the very last minute: 'The President of the Republic went at two o'clock with his staff to the Gallery ... I sent my profound regrets, and my centre picture - (beautiful - and you know what I must think when I say such a thing.) just in time for his arrival.' 7

Miss Draughn remained in contact with Whistler, for instance, when he was in Paris and she was in London in October 1901. 8 It is possible that she continued to pose for Whistler for this or another portrait. The Pennells imply that she was sitting to Whistler in London between 1901 and 1902. 9


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 533).

2: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, p. 204.

3: Whistler to Miss Draughn, [1899/1900], GUW #11202. The name 'White Coon', suggests she was dancing or singing with a band performing the newly popular 'cakewalk'.

4: 18 November [1899], GUW #11195.

5: [27 November 1899], GUW #11194.

6: [4/5 December 1899], GUW #11205; letter formerly dated 1901, redated with reference to the letters to Draughn quoted above, and to R. Birnie Philip, [5 December 1899], quoted below.

7: Whistler to R. Birnie Philip, [5 December 1899], GUW #04762; drawing listed as Five paintings at the Galerie Georges Petit [M.1600].

8: R. Birnie Philip to Inez Addams, 22 October 1901, GUW #04817.

9: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 244.

Last updated: 1st November 2019 by Margaret