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

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Portrait of Richard A. Canfield

Portrait of Richard A. Canfield dates from 1901 to 1903. 1

1901: In March, Richard Albert Canfield (1855-1914) enquired through an intermediary about the possibility of acquiring a painting. 2 On 20 July Canfield sent Whistler a cheque for £500 on account for 'two works ... important in size' leaving the subjects 'to your own decision.' 3

1902: Canfield started to pose at the beginning of March 1902. 4 In April Canfield sent a second cheque ‘for certain pictures not completed’, which Whistler returned, saying:

'You have seen that the work is all absorbing - and indeed I myself, find the difficulties in the brush quite sufficient in themselves, without allowing them to become complicated with anything distantly resembling responsibility of any kind! ...

I think it will not be at all difficult for you, who have so far shown such ready understanding, to see, with me, that this is as much of a link with business as I can stand in the midst of incompleted work.' 5

The Pennells said it was 'just begun' in May 1902, but later revised this date to 24 April 1902. 6 Canfield was still posing on 8 May 1902, but his departure for America was imminent. 7

1903: according to Gardiner, Canfield returned to Europe to sit for Whistler at the New Year and posed every day until 16 May 1903, when he sailed for New York. 8 Whistler was certainly working on the portrait during January and February, and on 16 February, for instance, Whistler suggested a sitting for the following day, saying 'we might see if "his Reverence" were in a good humour?!' 9 On 28 February Whistler suggested that the art dealer William Stephen Marchant (1868-1925) could arrange 'the departure of the picture.' 10 Sittings continued, despite delays when Whistler was too ill; 'we must not spoil things through haste' he wrote, adding, ' "His Reverence" moreover only gains by being left alone!' 11 However, the artist died before the painting could be completed.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 547).

2: Whistler to W. D. Coggeshall, [March 1901], GUW #03062.

3: Canfield to Whistler, 20 July 1901, GUW #00524.

4: Whistler to Canfield, 3 March [1902], GUW #03050,

5: Whistler to Canfield, [29] April [1902], GUW #00526.

6: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, p. 279; Pennell 1921C [more], pp. 234-35.

7: Whistler to Canfield, [7 May 1902], GUW #03060.

8: Gardiner, Alexander, Canfield : The True Story of the Greatest Gambler, New York, 1930, pp. 127, 229-32, 234-37.

9: Whistler to Canfield, [25 January 1903], GUW #00527; [10 February 1903], GUW #03057; 16 February [1903], GUW #09016. See also T. Duret to Whistler, 30 June 1903, GUW #01002.

10: Whistler to Canfield, [28 February 1903], GUW #03048.

11: 10 March 1903, GUW #03059.

Last updated: 19th October 2020 by Margaret