The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 023
Portrait of Whistler with Hat

Portrait of Whistler with Hat

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1858
Collection: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Accession Number: F1906.57a-b
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 46.3 x 38.1 cm (18 1/4 x 15")
Signature: 'Whistler.'
Inscription: none

Date

Portrait of Whistler with Hat probably dates from 1858.

Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art
Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art

In 1904, Théodore Duret (1838-1927) stated that it was painted in a studio in the Rue Campagne-Première in 1857/1858, but he later changed this to 1857/1859. 1 According to George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909), Whistler moved to 3 rue Campagne-Première in June 1858. 2 This address, and the technique (which resembles, for instance, that of La Mère Gérard (1) y026), reinforce a date of 1858.

The portrait was given by Whistler to his friend, the artist Ernest Delannoy (d. 1869/1872), in Paris, possibly in August 1859, and certainly before 1865. 3

Images

Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art
Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art

H. C. Guérard, after Portrait of Whistler with Hat, etching, Freer Gallery of Art
H. C. Guérard, after Portrait of Whistler with Hat, etching, Freer Gallery of Art

Whistler Smoking, Private collection
Whistler Smoking, Private collection

H. Fantin-Latour, Portrait of Whistler (detail from   Le Toast! Hommage à la vérité), Freer Gallery of Art
H. Fantin-Latour, Portrait of Whistler (detail from Le Toast! Hommage à la vérité), Freer Gallery of Art

Follower of Rembrandt, Portrait of a Young Man, Musée du Louvre
Follower of Rembrandt, Portrait of a Young Man, Musée du Louvre

Subject

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

Portrait of Whistler with Hat’ is the preferred title.

Description

Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art
Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art

Whistler described it as 'la tête grandeur nature peinte.' 12

A portrait in vertical format, it shows the head and shoulders of the artist in three-quarter view to left. He has dark curly hair and a moustache, and wears a black jacket and a flat-brimmed brushed silk hat. 13 The background is also very dark. The red signature 'Whistler.’ at the lower left is prominent.

Sitter

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903).

Whistler Smoking, private collection
Whistler Smoking, private collection

Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art
Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art

His face looks older, broader and heavier than in the earlier portrait, Whistler Smoking y009.

H. Fantin-Latour, Portrait of Whistler (detail from  Le Toast! Hommage à la vérité), Freer Gallery of Art
H. Fantin-Latour, Portrait of Whistler (detail from Le Toast! Hommage à la vérité), Freer Gallery of Art

A portrait of Whistler was painted by Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) in 1865 as part of his large figure composition, Le Toast! Hommage à la vérité: the surviving fragment shown above shows a slightly older Whistler, looking, in fact, more like his earlier self-portrait.

Comments

In July 1897 Whistler wrote urgently to the 'Major', his sister-in-law Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958):

'The telegram sent tonight means that Heinemann wants the photograph that Drouet gave me - or rather to Trixie -

… It used to be on the piano - and is from a portrait I did of myself long ago - Just the head with a hat - rather large - and very grand I need not say! - Find it Major and either post it - or if in too great a hurry bring it with you to Dieppe.' 14

There is however, no explanation of why the publisher William Heinemann (1863-1920) wanted the photograph.

Technique

Composition

Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art
Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art

The Pennells saw in it the influence of old masters in the Louvre, and Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn (1617-1681) in particular:

'The portraits "smell of the Louvre." The method is acquired from close knowledge of the Old Masters. "Rembrandtish" is the usual criticism passed on these early canvases, with their paint laid thickly on and their heavy shadows. Indeed, it is evident that the portrait of himself must have been done after long and careful study of Rembrandt's Young Man in the Louvre.' 15

Similarly, Théodore Duret (1838-1927) wrote that in this painting,

'On y découvre l'influence de Rembrandt, dont il était alors très épris. Il avait été particulièrement séduit par la tête de jeune homme de Rembrandt, au Louvre, avec le large béret et les longs cheveux ondulés, et il se plut à exécuter son propre portrait dans la même donnée.' 16

Follower of Rembrandt, Portrait of a Young Man, Musée du Louvre
Follower of Rembrandt, Portrait of a Young Man, Musée du Louvre

Duret may have had in mind the Portrait of a young man, now attributed to a follower or the studio of Rembrandt, and dated ca 1658, where the dramatically lit sitter wears a very large beret over long curly hair. 17

Technique

Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art
Portrait of Whistler with Hat, Freer Gallery of Art

It was painted fairly thickly and consistently throughout, but there are traces of alterations, particularly to each side of Whistler's neck and shoulders. The size of the canvas corresponds with the French 'toile de 8' (46 x 38 cm) and it was probably acquired in Paris.

Conservation History

According to the Freer Gallery of Art conservation records, it has been extensively conserved over the years: relined (1922); 'Varnished and flattened' (1925); resurfaced (1931 and 1942); relined again, in 1951; and the old relining was removed and the painting cleaned, relined and varnished in 1965.

History

Provenance

It was given by Whistler to a close friend, the artist Ernest Delannoy, in Paris, possibly in August 1859. 18 After his death it was sold at auction at the Hôtel des Ventes to 'Valentin' - possibly the father of the child who modelled for Whistler's etching, Bibi Valentin [34] in 1859. 19 Valentin in turn sold it through George A. Lucas to the dealer and collector S. P. Avery. Their diaries concurrently record the sale for 17 July 1872. Lucas wrote: 'At Valentins - paid 1000 fs for Whistler etchings & picture', and furthermore, he wrote on 26 November, 'carried Whistler head to Goupil to be photographed.' 20

It was one of the first sales of a painting by Whistler in which the artist was not personally involved. 21 Whistler had clearly forgotten about this portrait when it came up for sale in 1872. He wrote to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904):

'Maintenant je voudrais bien savoir quel est le portrait de moi que tu dis Valentin a vendu à cet étranger? … Je me demande si ce n'était qu'une pointe seche que j'avais fait dans le temps et dont j'aurais peutêtre donné une épreuve à Valentin, ou bien si c'était la tête grandeur nature peinte, tu te la rappele que j'avais donné a Erneste - En ce dernier cas Valentin n'avait nul droit de la vendre - cela appartenait à Erneste et à sa mort devrait me revenir.'

Translation: 'Now I would much like to know what is the portrait of me that you say Valentin has sold to this stranger? … I wonder if it was only a drypoint that I had done a long time ago and of which perhaps I gave a proof to Valentin, or if it was the life-size painting of a head, you remember that I gave to Erneste - In the latter case Valentin had no right to sell it - it belonged to Erneste and on his death should be returned to me.' 22

H. Fantin-Latour, Portrait of Whistler (detail from Le Toast! Hommage à la vérité), Freer Gallery of Art
H. Fantin-Latour, Portrait of Whistler (detail from Le Toast! Hommage à la vérité), Freer Gallery of Art

Although it is not always clear when G. A. Lucas was referring to a portrait head of Whistler by Fantin-Latour, which he had also bought for Avery, it appears from Lucas's diaries that both 'Whistler heads' were left at the packers on 22 February 1873 and probably despatched to America on 28 March. 23 Avery repeatedly showed the portrait at exhibitions in New York, even offering it for sale in 1873. 24 The catalogue of the Charity Art Exhibition in Baltimore, 1876, noted the owner as 'Thos. Whistler', but, despite this, the painting seems to have stayed in Avery's collection. 25 Eventually – well after the artist's death – the Whistler self-portrait was sold by Avery to C. L. Freer for $6500 in March 1906.

Exhibitions

When it was shown in the monthly exhibition of the Union League Club in 1881, an art critic described it as 'a small head of the artist painted by himself, which brings sharply out the "de-rangement in black and white" which passes with him for hair." 26 This is rather odd since Whistler's white lock of hair is not obvious in this painting, although it is conspicuous in later self-portraits, such as Arrangement in Grey: Portrait of the Painter y122.

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Newspapers 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

COLLECTION:

EXHIBITION:

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: Duret 1904 [more], p. 15; Duret 1914 [more], p. 10.

2: 18 May 1858, Diary, Lucas Collection, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; quoted by Randall 1979 [more], vol. 2, pp. 77, 365, 369, 372-76.

3: H. Fantin-Latour to Whistler, 5 August 1859, GUW #01074; [August 1872], GUW #08041.

4: Loan Exhibition of Paintings, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1874 (cat. no. 36).

5: Academy Charity Exhibition, Academy of Music, Baltimore, March 1876; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC I, p. 3.

6: Loan Collection of Paintings, in the West Galleries, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1881 (cat. no. 55).

7: Exhibition of Pictures, Union League Club, New York, 1881; press cutting, 10 April 1881, in GUL Whistler PC 4, p. 61.

8: Loan Collection of Paintings and Sculpture, in the West Galleries and the Grand Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1886 (cat. no. 99).

9: Loan Exhibition of Portraits for the Benefit of the Orthopædic Hospital, National Academy of Design, New York, 1898-1899 (cat. no. 253).

10: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 55).

11: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 23).

12: [August 1872], GUW #08041.

13: Eddy 1903 [more], p. 42; see also Hobbs 1981 [more], p. 1195, and Sutherland 2014 [more], p. 41, and MacDonald 2015 [more], on Whistler’s Bohemian fashion style.

14: 'Trixie' was Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896), and 'Major', R. Birnie Philip; [29 July 1897], GUW #04714.

15: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 74.

16: Duret 1904 [more], p. 15.

17: Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv./cat. no. 1749, Bredius no. 292; see also Hobbs 1981 [more], at p. 1195; Curry 1984 [more], p. 101.

18: H. Fantin-Latour to Whistler, 5 August 1859, GUW #01074; [August 1872], GUW #08041.

19: Noted by C. A. Howell, GUL MS Whistler LB 11.

20: Beaufort 1979 [more], vol. 1, p. 113; Randall 1979 [more], vol. 2, pp. 365, 369. 1000 francs amounted to about £38 at the time.

21: Petri 2011 [more], p. 151.

22: [August 1872], [GUW #08041.

23: Randall 1979 [more], vol. 2, p. 374.

24: Petri 2011 [more], pp. 183-84. Merrill 2003 [more], p. 12, mistakenly assumes that the portrait was shown at the 1866 Artists’ Fund Exhibition in New York.

25: Exhibition catalogue Charity Art Exhibition, Baltimore 1876 [more] (cat. no. 46).

26: Anon., 'The Union League', unidentified newspaper, New York, [10 April 1881] (press cutting, GUL Whistler PC 4, p. 61).