Portrait of Anna Denny dates from 1855. 1 Whistler told his biographers, the Pennells, 'Before I left America I painted portraits of Annie Denny, my cousin, and Tom Winans.' 2
In April 1855, Thomas de Kay Winans (1820-1878) said that he wished to see the portrait on which Whistler was working in Baltimore: this was reported to Whistler by his mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), 'Mr Winans expresses great interest about the portrait you can invite him to judge of it when it is sufficient touched up!' 3 However, 'Annies portrait' was still unfinished when she wrote a few days later:
'I trust you will not be elated by Mr Winans invitation for your coming here to paint & so leave Annies portrait unfinished! he asked me at dinner when I returned here after 2 days absence if I had heard from you. I said yes a few lines … & your bulletin of health was you were only too hungry! … he said he had heard from you & had written to advise your coming to his house to exercise your talent, if you only would work!' 4
However, Whistler took advantage of the invitation, and worked on the portrait of Annie Denny at 'Alexandroffsky', Thomas de Kay Winans's opulent Baltimore villa. 5 In July 1855 Whistler's mother wrote to him asking if she could have this portrait, because it was his first work, and suggested that he should paint a duplicate for Winans: 'Remember I claim Annie Dennys as your first assay[,] if your Patron wants it & you think the Major would not be offended, copy it for Mr T Winans, but tell him I expect him not to interfere with my claim to that one. her Grandmother will be coming here to see it, so take care of it for my room.' 6 There is no record of Whistler having painted a duplicate portrait.
Although the painting has not survived, references to it were made by Frank Larned Hunt (1825-1903) in a letter written on 3 May 1855, shortly after the portrait was started:
'Now Jamie dear - Im going to please you - in this wise - Mrs Larned quite bored me talking of your 'Denny' she really & enthusiastically … thinks it the most beautiful picture she ever saw - in fact "King" cousin tho he is - is jerked off his throne … in fact this amiable lady wants you to copy a picture of her sister for her - run over some day & take dinner here - strike this hot iron - the 'Iron' by the way does not want Cousin Charles - to know of it - "Artists are so jealous".' 7
Mary Sherwood (Mrs Larned) (1805-1897), wife of William Larned, may have been the mother of Charles Troubridge Larned (d. 1882), known as 'Frank', a class-mate of Whistler at USMA, West Point, and, later, Deputy Paymaster General. Alternatively she may have been the mother of Charles William Larned (1850-1911), Professor of Drawing at USMA, West Point from 1874-1911. 'King' was Charles Bird King (1785-1862), portrait painter, and cousin of Mrs Larned.
Portrait of Anna Denny, Whereabouts unknown
A descriptive title has been suggested:
The portrait of a young woman.
Anna Harding Denny (1834-1913) was the daughter of St Clair Denny (1800-1858) and Caroline Denny (1814/1815-1848), née Caroline Frances Hamilton. She was born on 29 May 1834, and married William Matthews Corcoran (1833-1890) on 30 March 1857. They had three children: Caroline Denny Corcoran (1858-1919), who married Asa P. Childs; William St Clair Denny Corcoran (1869-1913), who married Jennie Childs Howe (1858-1921); and Matilda Denny Corcoran, born in 1862, who died in infancy.
Anna Harding Corcoran died on 8 January 1913 in Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.
In 1858 Whistler's mother commented cattily on portraits of the Winans family then being painted by Joseph Alexander Ames (1816-1872), portrait and genre painter, at Thomas Winans' villa in Baltimore, where Whistler had apparently worked on his portrait of Annie Denny, several years earlier:
'Ames the Artist was in the studio at the Villa, probably painting portraits of her children, as she said he was claiming much of her time. he certainly does succeed in the most pleasing portraits restoring years to his subjects. you will recollect old Mr [blank] who was guest at the Villa when you were painting Annie Denny & who found so much fault with your Amateur skill in hands, you had the promise from your host & patron that you should paint the odd old genious [sic] who rather shrunk from daub likenesses, but I am sure Ames has fed his vanity by the flattering yet excellent likeness he has finished.' 9
In 1882, many years after the portrait was painted, Frank Larned Hunt (1825-1903) reminisced about his first meeting with Whistler, just after the artist had left the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
"We became friends at once and to me was confided the delicate task of building you an Easel - when you painted your 'belle cousine Annie Denny', you chose the color in a melancholy place behind 'Gadsbys' - I can see us both coming out now - and awakened the admiration - not only of all - but even that veteran Artist Chas B King by the charming grace and color of the portrait." 10
He was referring to the portrait painter Charles Bird King (1785-1862).
It is not known if this portrait was completed.
It is not known if it was completed, and not clear if it was commissioned by Winans or the sitter's father St Clair Denny (1800-1858); its fate is completely unknown.
It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.
1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 4).
2: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.
3: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 19 April 1855, GUW #06458.
4: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 24 April , GUW #06459.
5: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 7 May 1858, GUW #06496.
6: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 11 July 1855, GUW #06463. 'Grandmother' was Catherine Whistler (Mrs Hamilton) (1788-1874), Whistler's aunt.
7: GUW #02197.
8: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 4).
9: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 7 May 1858, GUW #06496. It is possible the 'old genius' was Ross Winans (1795-1877).
10: December 1882, GUW #02200.