The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 101
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1871
Collection: Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Accession Number: RF 699
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 144.3 x 162.5 cm (56 3/4 x 64")
Signature: butterfly
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau Whistler, 1891

Date

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother dates from 1871. 1

Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/247
Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/247

According to the sitter, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), her portrait was painted while she was staying with Whistler at 2 Lindsey Row over the summer of 1871, and took about three months to complete. It was started when a model failed to arrive for a sitting for another painting, which is known as Annabel Lee y079. At first Anna Whistler posed standing, then, when this proved too tiring, seated. She wrote to her sister Catherine Jane Palmer (1812-1877) describing the painting and early history of the portrait:

'A lovely study ordered two years ago by a wealthy M P. was promised in August. A beautiful young girl of 15 had posed for it, she was a novice & soon wearied standing & pleaded illness, then her brother in play with her as she was at home hurt her seriously & she had convulsions. poor Jemie does not relieve his trouble by talking of it, but I saw his misery. But he is never ill, his talent is too eager, if he fails in an attempt he tries another. so I was not surprised at his setting about preparing a large canvas late tho it was in the evening, but I was surprised when the next day he said to me "Mother I want you to stand for me! it is what I have long intended & desired to do, to take your Portrait." … disappointments are often the Lord's means of blessing, if the youthful Maggie had not failed Jemie as a model for "The girl in blue on the sea shore["] which I trust he may yet finish for Mr. Grahame, he would have had no time for my Portrait.' 2

She wrote further about the portrait to her friend James H. Gamble (b. 1820):

'I refused all invitations to visiting relatives here or friends, while I could be at home with Jemie, & even after he finished painting my Portrait such a success! ... Jemie has been at work at Speke Hall since early in Oct[ober], Mrs Leyland writes me of the Portrait he is taking of her that it is as life like as all think mine!' 3

At Speke Hall, Whistler's portraits of the Leylands and of his mother hung in the company of The Corregidor of Madrid, a painting that was thought to be by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), and, as Whistler told Walter Greaves (1846-1930), 'it is saying a great deal when I am able to feel not ashamed of their bearing under such trying conditions.' 4 Whistler apparently wrote in similar vein to his mother:

'Jemie sent me a sketch of mine as the centre Mr Leylands Portrait & a painting of Velasquez the two on either side of mine covering The wall one whole side of the great dining room called the banquetting [sic] hall & that the two Portraits bore the comparison with the painting of the famous Spanish Artist to his satisfaction.' 5

Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/54
Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/54

The painting was nearly destroyed by fire on the train back from Liverpool: '3 cases of Portraits were preserved from fire on the R R train coming from Speke Hall, ... & yet the painting uninjured ... I hope it is a favorable omen that it may be hung properly in the Royal Academy for the Exhibition', reported Mrs Whistler, adding,

'Jemie is … in good spirits about his work. he had some Artistic friends on Easter Tuesday to see my Portrait especially, as that was sent that evening to the Royal Academy ...

Sat 20th. ... A cheering report has come about Jemies picture of his Mother, it is considered a fine work & is well hung at the Royal Academy for the Exhibition.' 6

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay

It was exhibited at the 104th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1872 (cat. no. 941) as 'Arrangement in grey and black: portrait of the painter's mother'.

Images

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, verso of frame, 1973
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, verso of frame, 1973

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1872, New York Public Library
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1872, New York Public Library

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, ca 1878, GUL Whistler PH4/13
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, ca 1878, GUL Whistler PH4/13

Albumen print, ca 1878, signed 'Whistler', inscribed: 'To his Cousin Jacks MacNeill', GUL  Whistler PH4/122
Albumen print, ca 1878, signed 'Whistler', inscribed: 'To his Cousin Jacks MacNeill', GUL Whistler PH4/122

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, half-tone photograph, n.d., GUL Whistler PH4/113
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, half-tone photograph, n.d., GUL Whistler PH4/113

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL, MS Whistler PH5/2
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL, MS Whistler PH5/2

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph in raking  light from below, 1973
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph in raking light from below, 1973

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, infra-red photograph, 1973
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, infra-red photograph, 1973

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, ultraviolet photograph, 1973
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, ultraviolet photograph, 1973

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, diagram of changes
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, diagram of changes

Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/54
Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/54

Anna M. Whistler, silver-gelatin print, GUL Whistler PH1/55
Anna M. Whistler, silver-gelatin print, GUL Whistler PH1/55

Anna M. Whistler, albumen print, GUL Whistler PH1/56
Anna M. Whistler, albumen print, GUL Whistler PH1/56

Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/247
Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/247

La Salon pour rire, 21 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 5
La Salon pour rire, 21 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 5

L'Univers Illustré, [May 1883], GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4
L'Univers Illustré, [May 1883], GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4

La Caricature, 19 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4
La Caricature, 19 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4

Henri Guérard, 'Portrait de ma mère', etching, Gazette des beaux-arts, 1883
Henri Guérard, 'Portrait de ma mère', etching, Gazette des beaux-arts, 1883

A Bat, Montesquiou, R. de, Les chauves-souris: clair-obscurs, 1893
A Bat, Montesquiou, R. de, Les chauves-souris: clair-obscurs, 1893

It was photographed in 1872 by Alfred William Parsons (1847-1920). 7

Subject

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

The title was controversial from the start. It was frequently mentioned in reviews of the Royal Academy in 1872. For instance, one reviewer wrote:

'Mr. Whistler is a painter of too much power to need artificial distinction through an eccentric title to his pictures. In calling the portrait of his mother (941) "an arrangement in grey and black," he only draws away the attention from the real nature of his strength as a painter, which consists in the subtlety of distinction between hues and tones, as well as from the merit of the picture as a characteristic portrait. The "arrangement" is stiff and ugly enough to repel many who would otherwise recognise him as painter of rare quality, but when this is got over, the picture becomes one on which the eye delights to dwell.' 22

On 22 May 1878, in 'The Red Rag', Whistler himself cited the title of the portrait of his mother as an example of his purpose:

'Art should be independent of all clap-trap - should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it, and that is why I insist on calling my works "arrangements" and "harmonies."

Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal Academy as an "Arrangement in Grey and Black." Now that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait?' 23

'Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother' is the preferred title.

Description

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay

The portrait of an elderly woman seated in profile to left, on a canvas of horizontal format. She is dressed in black, with a white muslin bonnet with lappets falling over her shoulders. Her hands clasp a handkerchief in her lap. She is sitting on a wooden chair, her feet resting on a footstool. Behind her is a pale grey wall with a low black dado, and, at left, a dark grey curtain or robe, embroidered with silver patterns, hangs to the floor. To right of that hangs an etching in a narrow black frame.

Site

According to the Pennells, the studio in Whistler's house at 2 Lindsey Row in Chelsea, London, was a room at the back on the second storey, with grey walls and a black dado and doors. 24

Sitter

Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/56
Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/56

Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881) was born on 27 September 1804 in Wilmington, NC. She became the second wife of Major George Washington Whistler on 3 November 1831. James was her eldest son, born in 1834. She died in January 1881.

Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/55
Anna M. Whistler, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/55

She was 66 years old when she posed for her portrait. In a long letter to her sister, Kate Palmer, on 3-4 November 1871, Anna Whistler discussed the painting:

'My portrait you would all like as Debo [Deborah Haden] says it reminds her of Grandmother and Uncle William MacNeill. ... send Margaret this letter to read, tho she must not blush for the vanity of her old chum, in praise of my own likeness! but thankfulness to God is my emotion and it was a Mother's unceasing prayer while being the painter's model for the expression which makes the attractive charm.' 25

A description of the early sittings follows:

'I was not as well then as I am now, but never distress Jemie by complaints, so I stood bravely, two or three days, whenever he was in the mood for studying me his pictures are studies, & I so interested stood as a statue ! but realized it to be too great an effort, so my dear patient Artist who is gently patient as he is never wearying in his perseverance - concluded to paint me sitting perfectly at my ease.' 26

She then described her own and Whistler's attitude to the work:

'Jemie had no nervous fears in painting his Mothers portrait for it was to please himself & not to be paid for in other coin, only at one or two difficult points when I heard him ejaculate "No! I can't get it right! it is impossible to do it as it ought to be done perfectly!" I silently lifted my heart, that it might be as the Net cast down in the Lake at the Lords will, as I observed his trying again, and oh my grateful rejoicing in spirit as suddenly my dear Son would exclaim, "Oh Mother it is mastered, it is beautiful!" and he would kiss me for it!' 27

Then the sitter reported the reactions of Whistler's lawyer, James Anderson Rose (1819-1890), the artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), and his patron Frances Leyland (1834-1910) and family:

'Some few of his most intimate friends came, Mr Rose who seems to have given me his own Mothers place since she died, was charmed & came four times, he says when it is Exhibited next Spring he shall go every day to see it. … And now that dear Jemie is at Speke Hall it is there. I will just extract from Mrs Leylands letter to me what her little daughters said in her Surprise. "I think you ought Mr W to write Peace on your Mother's picture for that is what it is!["] and another remarked ["]Isn't it the very way Mrs Whistler sits with her hands folded on her handkerchief! Oh it is exactly like her!" ' 28

She reported further reactions from friends including Emilie Venturi (1821–1893) before the painting was sent to the Royal Academy in 1872:

'Jemie is ... in good spirits about his work. he had some Artistic friends on Easter Tuesday to see my Portrait ... I was up in my Japanese bedroom … & refused not the particular friends & admirers of my Son's work, who begged permission to tell me their impressions of the picture[,] if I were to write all that was said, you'd fear, a proof of the human weakness, had overcome me in my declining years! ...

Madame Venturi ... was here all day … An Artist said to her "it has a holy expression. oh how much sentiment Whistler had put into his Mothers likeness." ' 29

One of the first reviews of Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother in the Academy for 15 May 1872, specifically mentioned the artist's powerful intellectual grasp of the Protestant character.

However, Anna Whistler was upset when an unexpected guest from Philadelphia came to visit, upsetting her orderly habits:

'I should have had the table cleared as soon as Jemie finished, had not a Mrs Hooper come in ... she had written Jemie her wish to see his Mother was increased by her having seen his picture of me at the Academy. I was a little mortified that I was conscious of appearing careless.' 30

Comments

Contemporary reactions:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) wrote to Whistler in 1871, 'Such a picture as you have now finished of your Mother must make you happy for life and ought to do good to the times we are living in.' 31

Shortly after her portrait was painted Mrs Whistler had written that it was Whistler's 'favorite work.' 32 Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington (1854 or 1855-d. 1920) remembered Whistler saying, 'Yes - one does like to make one's Mummy just as nice as possible!' 33

His public attitude was quite different. Whistler broke with Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) in 1888 when Swinburne wrote that the portrait was not, as the artist claimed, merely an arrangement of colours and lines and shapes, but possessed qualities that 'appeal to the intelligence and the emotions, to the mind of the spectator. It would be quite useless for Mr. Whistler to protest ... that he never meant to put ... intense pathos of significance and tender depth of expression into the portrait of his own venerable mother. The scandalous fact remains that he has done so.' 34

In 1891 George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) told Whistler 'how great I think your picture of your mother is, a real poem of the highest order, a most serene harmony, the impression of it remains with me like a strain of sweet & solemn music', and Whistler thanked him for 'this flattering & warm expression of sympathy from a confrère so greatly distinguished as yourself.' 35

William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) commented, 'Whistlers portrait of his mother – in the Luxembourg – is the only painting I have seen since I left Madrid that one might hang next Velasquez.' 36

Recent surveys and comments:

Essays in Whistler's Mother: An American Icon (2003), explored various aspects of the creation, marketing, and after-life of the painting. Georgia Toutziari gave an account of the sitter's life; Margaret MacDonald and Joy Newton discussed the creation and exhibition history of the painting; the travelling exhibition of the painting through the USA was analysed by Kevin Sharp; William Vaughan examined the psychological implications of the portrait, and Martha Tedeschi discussed the development of the portrait's reputation and its establishment as an 'American icon'. 37

The Musée d'Orsay website comments:

'Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, also called Portrait of the Artist's Mother is a reminder, if only through its double title, of the stylisation to which Whistler soon submitted the realistic aesthetic of his early years. The portrait's psychological acuity is powerfully conveyed by the deliberately pared down composition. The work, in its linear austerity and chromatic rigour dominated by neutral tones, was a continuation of Whistler's experimentation with prints, to which View of the Thames hanging on the wall is an allusion.

Dropping all pretence at anecdote, Whistler soon gave nothing but musical subtitles to his paintings, insisting on the musical notion of harmony rather than that of subject matter. The painting, bought by the French state in 1891, is now one of the most famous works by an American artist outside the United States.' 38

Elizabeth Prettejohn analyses the composition and treatment of the portrait perceptively, commenting on its lack of sentimentality:

'Instead of the sentimental, there is something else that comes as a surprise: a play between the reticent signs of old age and the exact justice of the design that we may wish to call beautiful in the Kantian sense. The beauty is that of Modernism, either in the near-abstract simplification of the design, or in the unidealized portrayal of old age. But it is also that of antiquity in the perfect interpenetration of sensuous shape with spiritual meaning.' 39

Technique

Composition

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1873, New York Public Library
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1873, New York Public Library

COMPOSITION SOURCES:

In the early 1870s Whistler made a drypoint, Whistler's Mother [103], which shows her standing; this may have been an alternative pose, rejected because the sitter could not maintain the pose for long periods.

Many writers have suggested possible sources for the composition of the oil painting. Julius Meier-Graefe (1867-1935) related it to Whistler's own At the Piano y024. 40

The art critic Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) thought the source 'or the hint of it' was a Roman funerary monument like the Agrippina in the Capitol in Rome, or 'Canova's statue of Napoleon's mother at Chatsworth'. 41 Whistler was enthusiastic about various forms of neoclassical art when he was a boy (for instance, the work of Johann Heinrich Fuseli (1741-1825) and Bertel (Alberto) Thorwaldsen (ca 1770-1844)). Later Whistler was demonstrably interested in a particular form of antique sculpture, namely Tanagra statuettes.

Gibson suggested that the source for the composition was an 1861 etching of Mrs Edwin Edwards by Charles Samuel Keene (1823-1891). 42 There are obvious analogies with the work of several of Whistler's French contemporaries, including Les deux soeurs (The Two Sisters, 1859, Saint Louis Art Museum) by Whistler's close friend, Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904); La Famille Bellelli (1858-1867, Musée d'Orsay) by Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834-1917); and – though it is less likely that Whistler knew this – Madame Manet au Piano (1868, Musée d'Orsay) by Edouard Manet (1832-1883). Furthermore Whistler admired and owned a photograph of a painting by the Belgian artistAlfred Émile-Léopold Stevens (1823-1906), La Consolation (La visite de condoléances, 1857, Musée d’Ixelles/Museum van Elsene) which showed three seated women, two in deep mourning. 43

ALTERATIONS:

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, ultraviolet  photograph, 1973
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, ultraviolet photograph, 1973

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, infra-red photograph, 1973
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, infra-red photograph, 1973

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, raking light from below, 1973
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, raking light from below, 1973

Many alterations were made to the picture, and it appears from visual, photographic and X-ray examination that the figure and footstool were originally several centimetres higher on the canvas, that the arms and knees were tried out both in higher and lower positions, and the curtain and picture frame were originally further to the right. Infra-red photography shows a preliminary drawing, probably in ink, of several folds of drapery extending to the left below the curtain and footstool. There is a suggestion of additional work to the right of the figure, possibly a wall or a curtain, dividing the space between the figure and the edge of the canvas. The chair originally had a curved back.

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, diagram of changes
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, diagram of changes

The net effect of the original composition would have been that the figure appeared more enclosed in the centre of the canvas. 44

Technique

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay

According to Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913), a cartoon of the 'Three Girls' was pricked on the canvas of Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother and the figures outlined in red, and the portrait as known today was painted on the back. 45 The size of the The Three Girls (which was destroyed by the artist), as estimated from a surviving fragment and a copy of it, is not exactly the same as the portrait of Whistler's mother, but close enough for Way's account to be accepted, with reservations.

Less likely is an account by Otto Henry Bacher (1856-1909), who wrote that 'it was painted on the back of a canvas, on the face of which was the portrait of a child.' 46

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, verso of frame, 1973
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, verso of frame, 1973

Because Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother y101 has been relined it is impossible to check either Way's or Bacher's account.

The treatment of paint varies across the canvas. On the wall, the broad brushstrokes of thick cream and grey paint go in all directions. Against this surface, the face and hands have an unexpected richness of colour. The paint is rather liquid and the artist used small round brushes to apply yellow on the hands, cream and pink on the face, and white highlights.

George Moore (1852-1933) commented, 'the delicate hands of a beautiful old age lying in a small lace handkerchief are little short of miraculous. They are not drawn out in anatomical diagram, but appear and disappear, seen here on the black dress, lost there in the small white handkerchief.' 47

The pattern on the curtain was painted thinly with a round bristle brush 8 mm (1/4") wide, the grey occasionally enlivened by a thick dab of yellow paint partly mixed with white. A very subdued grey pattern was painted with small round brushes (3-4 mm) the paint as thin as watercolour. Some of the longer lines are wider, painted with a square-ended brush (6 mm wide).

A. E. Gallatin lists an undated painting by Walter Greaves (1846-1930) of Whistler painting Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, which was probably done from imagination. 48 However, Greaves did see Whistler painting Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother and described Whistler's technique to the Pennells. He emphasised the sparse use of paint, 'the canvas being simply rubbed over to get the dress, and, as at first the dado had been painted all across the canvas, it even now shows through the black of the skirt'; the handkerchief Greaves said was 'nothing but a bit of white and oil.' 49 Whistler painted 'with a lot of linseed oil and little colour, and on the back of the canvas so as to imitate the grain of the dress and of the handkerchief.' 50 The white of the lace and of the handkerchief were in fact laid on rather dry, but the skirt was painted very thinly, with little variation in tone or definition of drapery. Prettejohn discusses the colour and treatment of the portrait:

"Grey and black are the quietest colours imaginable, and they are accompanied by white, another neutral hue. The canvas is barely covered by its ethereal film of pigment, and the weave of the fabric almost impreceptibly varies the texture of the fluid supervening layers, brushed as gently as 'breath on the surface of a pane of glass' … the sitter's face and hands introduce the tint – after all – of humanity, just enough warmer than the prevailing colour harmony to read as human flesh. Does this nuance simply save the colour harmony from too austere an austerity? Or does it suggest that an 'arrangement' may be something more than an abstract pattern of line and colour?'" 51

Conservation History

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1873, New York Public Library
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1873, New York Public Library

Henri Guérard, etching, Gazette des beaux-arts, 1883
Henri Guérard, etching, Gazette des beaux-arts, 1883

An early photograph in the Avery Collection (New York Public Library), inscribed by Whistler to Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) in 1872, shows the picture before the curtain and skirt and other areas had darkened. 52

The painting was varnished in 1878 before being produced in court during the Whistler v. Ruskin trial. 53 It was probably lined before going to Paris in 1891.

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, ca 1878, GUL PH4/13
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, ca 1878, GUL PH4/13

Albumen print, ca 1878, signed 'Whistler', inscribed: 'To his Cousin Jacks MacNeill', GUL  Whistler PH4/122
Albumen print, ca 1878, signed 'Whistler', inscribed: 'To his Cousin Jacks MacNeill', GUL Whistler PH4/122

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, half-tone photograph, n.d., GUL PH4/113
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, half-tone photograph, n.d., GUL PH4/113

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Goupil Album, photograph, 1892, GUL Whistler PH5/2
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Goupil Album, photograph, 1892, GUL Whistler PH5/2

Several photographs, taken over a century, document the appearance of the painting, but the various effects of lighting and exposure make it difficult to judge the condition of the painting during that time.

Sarah Walden has written two accounts of her conservation of the painting at the Musée d'Orsay, in and article, and in the biography, Whistler and His Mother (An Unexpected Relationship). 54

Frame

Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland, The Frick Collection
Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland, The Frick Collection

The original frame was probably a Flat Whistler frame decorated with an incised basket-weave pattern on the frieze, similar to that seen on Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland y106. It was scorched by fire in 1872, shortly before it was sent to the Royal Academy, according to Anna Whistler:

'the 3 cases of Portraits were preserved from fire on the R R train coming from Speke Hall … the case in which my Portrait was, the flames had reached but in time discovered. the lid so burnt, a side of the frame was scorched! & yet the painting uninjured.' 56

The extent of the fire damage is unknown. Thus it is uncertain if the original frame was removed and replaced with a possible second frame (of uncertain style/pattern) or if it was simply repaired and regilt.

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, verso of frame, 1973
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, verso of frame, 1973

The painting was probably reframed by Frederick Henry Grau (1859-1892), London, in 1891. In the following year, Whistler then suggested that the old frame could be cut down, regilded, and used to frame Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean y072. 57 He also recommended that the frame for Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander y129 should be 'Gold same soft colour as on portrait of my Mother.' 58 And in June 1892 he urged Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) to go to Grau for frames, 'He is the only one who has the true pattern of my frame - Tell him that the gold must be the pale yellow soft gold like the gilding of my Mother's frame.' 59

History

Provenance

In February 1874 the portrait of his mother was in the house of the artist's brother, William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900) and barely escaped being seized by the Doctor's creditors. 60 According to the Pennells it was at one time hung in Whistler's bedroom at Lindsey Row, Chelsea, and was later with Jane Noseda (1814-ca 1894), print dealer and publisher in the Strand, London, who was prepared to sell it for £100. 61 However, on 10 April 1876 the New York Herald reported that Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother was safely in Whistler's studio. 62

In September 1878 Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother and Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder y203 and two Nocturnes of Battersea were deposited by Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), on Whistler's behalf, as security for a loan from the print dealers and publishers H. Graves & Co. 63 The Pennells record that more money was advanced by Graves at Howell's request for a proposed portrait of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) and Graves was prepared to look on Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother as security. 64

In November 1878 Algernon Graves (1845-1922) retrieved 'Mrs Whistler' from the artist and proposed to exhibit the portrait at his premises at No. 6 Pall Mall, before sending it back to Richard Josey (1840-1906), who was to make a mezzotint engraving of it. 65 Howell organised the printing of a subscription form (signed proofs cost £3.3.0, lettered proofs £2.2.0, and prints £1.1.0) and the engraving was published by Graves. On 1 May 1879, 'In consideration of your undertaking all risk and expense in the matter of the two engravings now in progress by Mr Richard Josey, one being the portrait of my mother', Whistler made over the copyright of the latter to Howell. 66 However, before completion of the mezzotint Whistler filed bankruptcy papers and 'A portrait of my mother' was declared as one of his assets, worth £500. 67 By 25 August 1879, 100 impressions of the mezzotint had been printed and Howell hoped to have a further 100 printed, but complained of the expense. 68

On 10 January 1881 Whistler paid back £50 of the £200 then owing to H. Graves & Co., and on 9 May 1882 a further instalment of £50, leaving £100 plus £41.13.4 interest, calculated at a rate of 5 per cent. 69

According to Harrison S. Morris (1856-1948), later manager of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Academy refused to buy Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother for $1500; furthermore, Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920) said 'on good authority' that it 'was offered in New York for $1200 and found no buyer.' 70

By June 1882 the painting was back with H. Graves & Co., though Whistler kept borrowing it to show to potential clients or for exhibition. He was practically playing musical chairs with Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle y137,and Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder y203. 71

William Booth Pearsall (1845-1913) said that in Dublin Jonathan Hogg (1847-1930) offered to buy Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother but Whistler assured him it was not for sale. 'How can it ever have been supposed that I offered the picture of my Mother for sale! ... certainly I should never dream of disposing of it', he wrote. 72 He also thanked William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) for not buying the picture, and implied that he planned to retrieve it from Graves and keep it for himself, because it was 'more personal.' 73

Although Whistler had still not settled his account with Graves, in December 1886 he arranged to 'mortgage' Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother to Richard DOyly Carte (1844-1901) with Arrangement in Black: La Dame au brodequin jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell y242 as security for £500.0.0 (at 5 per cent) which he then lent to the Society of British Artists. 74 Whistler was repaid by the RBA, and possibly redeemed the portrait of the his mother from D'Oyly Carte in July 1888. 75 Whistler probably settled his account with H. Graves & Co. after they sent their bill to him in November 1888. 76

According to David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) of Goupil's, London, after the success of the 'private' exhibition of Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle in April 1891, and its sale to the City of Glasgow, he suggested to Whistler that Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother should be offered to the Musée du Luxembourg; to this Whistler agreed, and 'set to work to get the picture into his possession.' 77

Thomson also mentioned this to Maurice Joyant (1864-1930), manager of Goupil's Paris branch, who thought it 'une idée excellente ... les sympathies de tous les artistes et amateurs sont déjà depuis longtemps avec Mr. Whistler' and suggested forming a committee of such interested parties, stressing, however, that a low price was essential since 'les prix d'achats sont au maximum dans les dix mille francs.' 78

Whistler shot off to Paris to campaign with his friend, the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), and as he told his wife, 'The Luxembourg is I really believe not so far off - for Proust is no longer the Ministre des Beaux Arts, but an intimate friend of Mallarmé holds that post! - and the matter will be seen to at once!' 79

An article by Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) in Le Gaulois on 4 November 1891 strongly urged the acquisition of the portrait by the State ̶ a bit too strongly, indeed, which alarmed Whistler, as he told Mallarmé, 'C'est tres gentil de sa part - très chaud - peutetre trop chaud à notre point de vue - vous savez - un peu trop agressive! Un peu trop dans le sens demonstration - Manet - Martyre - etc.' 80

Mallarmé was planning an approach to the Directeur des beaux-arts, Henri Roujon (1853-1914), and, when Roujon fell ill, proposed to send him an article by Théodore Duret (1838-1927) in which the painting was reproduced. 81 Meanwhile the portrait was taken off exhibition at Goupil's, and Whistler, while hoping for news from on high – that is, from Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921) – begged the Machiavellian Mallarmé to calm down Duret, who in his enthusiasm planned to contact the art critic Roger Marx (1859-1913) and Charles Yriarte (1832-1898), an Inspecteur at the Ministère de l'instruction publique et des beaux-arts. 82

The notion of buying the painting by public subscription, as in the case of Manet's Olympia in November 1891, was ultimately rejected, as was the somewhat risky suggestion by Mathias Morhardt (1863-1939), editor of Le Temps, and Alidor Delzant (1848-1905), for a 'comité illustre' to organise the purchase. The question of price was discussed: Whistler's portrait of Carlyle had fetched 25000 francs, but he thought 'mille livres - il y a une certaine dignité -, qui empèche, qu'içi, l'on dise que le tableau avait été offert pour rien', and Mallarmé replied that although the price would necessarily be derisory, 'environ cinq mille francs', it would be more flattering if the Minister himself asked to buy the painting for the Musée du Luxembourg, to which Whistler enthusiastically agreed. 83 Duret mentioned, as an extra incentive, the certainty of promotion from 'chevalier' to 'officier' of the Légion d'honneur. 84

With the help of Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), Leon Victor Auguste Bourgeois (1851-1925), the Minister of the Interior, was persuaded to visit the Goupil gallery to see the painting. He wrote on 19 November 1891 to ask if Whistler would sell the portrait, 'l'une de vos toiles que la critique et le publique ont le plus justement remarquée', to which Whistler replied, 'Le tableau dont vous avez fait choix, est précisement [sic] celui que je pouvais le plus sensiblement souhaiter voir devenir l'objet d'une si solennelle consécration.' (The picture you have chosen is precisely the one which I would be most happy to see become the object of such formal recognition.) 85

On 30 November 1891, 'le Portrait de ma mère' (the official document from Bourgeois calls it 'le portrait d'une dame âgée') was purchased for 4000 francs, the low price agreed by Whistler reflecting his concern that the portrait should enter the Luxembourg. 86 As Mallarmé told the artist, 'Oui, c'est bien pour le Louvre, cela va de soi, le Luxembourg n'en est que l'antichambre': the painting entered the Luxembourg on 14 December 1891, the Jeu de Paume on 15 July 1922 and the Musée du Louvre in 1926. 87

A Bat, Montesquiou, R. de, Les chauves-souris: clair-obscurs, 1893
A Bat, Montesquiou, R. de, Les chauves-souris: clair-obscurs, 1893

To celebrate the purchase by the French Government Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac held a soirée for Whistler on 25 November 1891. The count read the poem Moth, which he had composed for the occasion (it was published in Les chauves-souris: clair-obscurs in 1892, and with the addition of a bat drawn by Whistler, in the 1893 edition). 88 The poem ended with a verse about Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother. Whistler was moved to tears.

On 30 January 1892, Whistler heard officially that he had been promoted to the rank of Chévalier de la Légion d'honneur. 89 It was reported in the Paris Figaro on the following day. His friend the sculptor Charles L. Drouet (1836-1908) held a dinner to celebrate.

Friends and supporters on both sides of the Channel and, indeed, of the Atlantic, were delighted. As Mallarmé told Whistler, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was complimentary: 'J'aurais aimé que vous entendissiez Degas parler avec toute la sincérité de son admiration, hier soir, en revenant d'un diner, du "Portrait de ma mère".' 90 Another old friend was less congratulatory. When Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) met Whistler in the Louvre, 'en touchant le ruban rouge fraîchement éclos à la boutonnière' – the red ribbon of the Order – Fantin said, 'C'est pour cela que tu as vendu ta mère!' 91

Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) wrote that he would have preferred to see the portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and John Chandler Bancroft (1835-1901), said that he would have preferred 'our poor Museum in Boston ... where it would may be do more good in the long run', but he was the first to report to Whistler on the presentation of the picture at the Luxembourg.

'I went yesterday to the Luxembourg & found the picture on an easel very prominent in the first room ... I took a good look at it ... coming back to it three or four times, each time with more satisfaction and my first impression each time strengthened - It has a simplicity and dignity of sentiment and a quiet richness of tone and light which place it by itself in the collection ... I could hardly turn my back upon it - You will surely be well pleased when you see it.' 92

After a week or two on an easel, it was hung in the salle d'honneur, but Whistler refused to go and see it until his wife, Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896), arrived in Paris. 93 He considered it as a triumph and the justification of his work, 'To go and look at one's own picture hanging on the walls of the Luxembourg! - remembering how it was treated in England ... and to know that all this is gall & bitterness and a tremendous slap in the face to the Academy and the rest! Really it is like a dream!' 94 He raved on about the triumph, 'C'est beau d'avoir été insulté en Angleterre, pour être couvert d'honneur en France!' or, in English, to Frederick Jameson (1839-1916), 'To be insulted in England and covered with honour in France! - how splendid! - For supposing it had been t'other way about - what a fool's paradise!' 95 And, as he told a journalist, George Washburn Smalley (1833-1916) (who duly reported Whistler's triumph), 'this is simply the greatest honour that can possibly be conferred upon an Artist - and it occurs to me in my lifetime!' 96

Thus Whistler told the press, or got others to inform journalists of his success and also told patrons and art dealers that the press was impressed! Beatrice Whistler, for instance, told the art dealer Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), 'Since the sale of the Mother's picture to the French Government, it is wonderful in what a different tone Whistler's pictures are spoken of by the London press - Several have said that his are the only pictures likely to increase in value as time goes on.' 97 And at the same time she told a major patron, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), 'You would be very much amused at the difference it has made in the tone of the London papers!! They say it is disgrace to England that such a picture was allowed to go out of the country, quite ignoring the fact that this is one of the pictures they laughed at!!' 98 Yet Whistler, who had assured people that the purchase would increase the value of his works, illogically complained to Freer that this was the case:

'the Englishmen have all sold ... whatever paintings of mine they possessed! directly they were hall marked by the French Government, and established as of value - turning over, under my very eyes, literally for thousands what they had gotten for odd pounds!' 99

Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) made a lithograph of the portrait, and Graves & Co. relinquished their copyright in January 1892, at Whistler's request, in return for 25 proofs of Way's lithograph, which was 'signed' with a butterfly stamp copied from Whistler's monogram. Unfortunately the lithograph failed to compete financially with a photograph that was on sale at Goupil's. 'I touch each impression before signing, and have before me the proof you worked on yourself.' wrote Way, adding, 'They are not going very fast however. The fine photo you have in the Exhibition is selling and taking the wind out of my sails for the moment.' 100

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Goupil Album, photograph, 1892, GUL Whistler PH5/2
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Goupil Album, photograph, 1892, GUL Whistler PH5/2

Whistler at first ignored Way's problem, and encouraged the inclusion of a photograph, taken by Boussod Valadon & Cie, and signed by himself, in the album of selected images from Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892. 101 However, he later told Way that the proofs were 'greatly improved'. 102

Exhibitions

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, Musée d'Orsay

1872: ROYAL ACADEMY.

Whistler offered to show the painting to the art critic Thomas Taylor (1817-1880) before it was submitted to the Royal Academy in 1872. 103

The Pennells write that at first the selection committee rejected Whistler's painting:

'There was indignation outside the Academy. Madox Brown wrote to George Rae: "I hear that Whistler has had the portrait of his mother turned out. If so, it is a shame, because I saw the picture, and know it to be good and beautiful, though, I suppose, not to the taste of Messrs. Ansdell and Dobson."

There was indignation also inside the Academy. Sir William Boxall threatened to resign from the Council if the portrait was not hung, for he would not have it said that a committee to which he belonged had rejected it ... Boxall, though an Academician, would not yield, and the picture was hung, not well, yet not out of sight; groups, it is said, were always gathered before it to laugh. Still, there it was, the last picture by Whistler at the Academy.' 104

William Boxall (1800-1879) was a friend of the Whistler's and his portrait of the 14 year-old Whistler (now in The Hunterian, University of Glasgow) had been exhibited at the RA in 1849.

At the RA in 1872 Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother was hung, Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929) remembered, 'over a door, or at any rate pretty high up – but not too high to be seen', and at the time he thought it 'very strange very stately and ... singularly devoid of colour.' 105

The Examiner on 22 June 1872 commented on the beautifully drawn features and decorative details, but criticised the restrained colour scheme:

' "Arrangement in grey and black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother", is another of Mr J. A. M. Whistler's experiments, and his only contribution to the Academy's exhibition. It is astonishing how much Mr Whistler has here accomplished with two colours, aided, however, by touches of red on the face and hands, and of yellow in the carpet, footstool, and cardboard of the drawing on the wall. The lines of the face are beautifully and delicately drawn, and the black lace curtain is carefully elaborated. We should think it probable that the likeness, both of the room and of the lady, is true and intimate; but it is not a picture, and we fail to discover any object that the artist can have in view in restricting himself almost entirely to black and grey.'

Some critics expressed qualified approval, The Times, for instance, commented that the 'quiet harmony' was welcome 'among the harsh, loud discords of the Exhibition,' but added that 'The head of the gentle-looking, silver-haired old lady, however, lacks solidity, and the white of the mounted print on the wall surely comes too far before her lace cap, ruffles and handkerchief.' 106 Another critic wrote (with reservations) an appreciative review of Whistler's Royal Academy exhibit – a review which, curiously enough, was largely repeated for Whistler's one-man show in 1874:

'Far removed from commonplace, however, is Mr. Wistler’s [sic] contribution ... described in the catalogue as "An Arrangement in Black and White [sic]: Portrait of the Painter's Mother." This canvas is large, and much of it vacant. A thin, cold light fills the room, where the flat grey wall is only broken by a solitary picture in black and white; a piece of foldless, creaseless, Oriental, flowered crape hangs from the cornice. The floor and the walls are subdued, softened, and fused to a level which might have become monotonous in any other hands. And here, in this solemn chamber, sits the lady in mournful garb, in calm pensive, contemplative mood. The picture has found few admirers ... and for this result the painter has only to thank himself; An artist who could deal with large masses so grandly might have shown a little less severity, and thrown in a few details of interest without offence. One who could so well conceive the bearing and dignity of age, marking its character of thoughtful ease and repose with unerring pencil, might have lit up the lineaments with living light, if not with warmth, and have marked with greater emphasis the settled lines, the furrows which worldly cares create, and deeply stamp upon the human countenance.' 107

Whistler suggested to Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) that the requisite 'few details' might be 'a glass of sherry & the Bible!' 108

1872-1873: PARIS.

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1873, New York Public Library
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, 1873, New York Public Library

Whistler told Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) that he thought of sending it to Paris: 'Le portrait de ma mère je ferai photographier et je t'en enverrai une epreuve - Aussi je pense peutêtre envoyer la toile à Paris pour le Salon prochain.' 109 The photograph was distributed among friends and family. Whistler's mother told a friend that Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848-1939) 'had just been to see Jemie & his pictures & requested the favor of his painting a copy of my Portrait - he presented her a Photograph of it instead!' 110 The painting was not, however, exhibited in Paris at that time.

1874: PALL MALL.

The Hour compared it to Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander y129, which hung near Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother:

'The only fault in the picture is that the head is some what vaporous, and has less firmness and solidity than the other parts. The same peculiarity is, to some extent observable m the otherwise fine portrait of an aged lady ... The tone in this is more sombre and very fine in quality, and the keeping throughout is perfect. This picture was, if we are not mistaken, exhibited some years ago at the Royal Academy as "Portrait of the Artist’s Mother;" the effect of light and shade is very broad and massive, and the treatment appropriately simple and dignified.' 111

1878: WHISTLER v RUSKIN

At the time of the trial, works that had been hung in important exhibitions, such as the Royal Academy, were chosen by Whistler to be shown in his defense in court. These included Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother y101. He asked Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890) to come and see 'the pictures I have there collected',

'I am sure that before the dignified portrait of my mother - the fine sketch of Carlyle, and the really beautiful picture of little Miss Alexander (all just varnished and seen for the first time in their full richness of color) you will feel that truth is on my side and have renewed confidence in the painter!' 112

1881-1882: AMERICA

It was lent by H. Graves & Co. for exhibition in Philadelphia in 1881. Whistler asked Graves to 'Kindly have the picture wiped or cleaned so that it may leave in first rate condition' and told his sister-in-law that 'I never saw it looking so well!' 113

1883: SALON, PARIS

Henri Guérard, 'Portrait de ma mère', etching, Gazette des beaux-arts, 1883
Henri Guérard, 'Portrait de ma mère', etching, Gazette des beaux-arts, 1883

The painting was escorted by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) to the Salon in Paris in 1883. 114 According to Whistler, 'my Mother's portrait is a great success and they speak of giving me a medal - but I don't suppose they will - it is not in human nature'; in fact he was awarded a third-class medal. 115

Salon pour rire, 21 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 5
Salon pour rire, 21 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 5

L'Univers Illustré, [May 1883], GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4
L'Univers Illustré, [May 1883], GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4

La Caricature, 19 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4
La Caricature, 19 May 1883, GUL Whistler PC7, p. 4

Several art critics mocked the portrait. L' Union Médicale thought Whistler should have mentioned that the portrait showed his mother 'après sa mort.' Among the precursors of a long line of caricatures, L' Univers Illustré showed 'Une pauvre dame abandonnée dans un appartement, dont les cheminées fument,' and La Caricature represented 'Protestation contre les brouillards de l'Angleterre.' ('A poor lady abandoned in an apartment where the chimneys smoke', and 'A protest against the fogs of England'). 116

But the painting inspired a number of more appreciative reviews. Le Rappel commented on the originality of 'Cette peinture délicate, pleine de subtilités, dans des gris d'une finesse extrême', and Charles Bigot (1840-1893) in the Gazette des beaux-arts appreciated Whistler's integrity, ‘l'unité d'impression qui se dégage de cette peinture ... l'accord de la couleur et du sujet ... la vérité de la pose de cette vieille femme assise.' 117 Le Jour was exceptional in perceiving that Whistler was not interested in the merely anecdotal side of the portrait, but in the abstract arrangement of its colour, and tones: 'M. Whistler se sert d'une palette extrêmement sobre. Du blanc, du noir, quelques jaunes, des rouges et c'est tout. Mais quelle poésie dans le jeu de ces quatre tons où les premiers dominent avec une saveur étrange.' 118

An article on the Salon by William Crary Brownell (1851-1928) described the portrait as having 'a grave dignity, not without sensibility, a quiet and almost severe grace that is full of character, it is difficult to conceive a more charming union of portraiture and picturesqueness.' 119 This favourable article was cited by George Roland Halkett (1855-1918) when recommending (in vain) the purchase of Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle y137 for the Scottish National Gallery in 1884. 120

1884: DUBLIN.

The painting was insured for £300.0.0 for the trip to Dublin. 121 According to William Booth Pearsall (1845-1913), in Dublin Jonathan Hogg (1847-1930) offered to buy the portrait but Whistler assured him it was not for sale. 122

1887: MANCHESTER

Several letters refer to the proposed exhibition of 'Arrangement in Grey & Black, Portrait of the Painter's Mother' at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester, but it is possible it did not arrive in time, and in any case Whistler's paintings and etchings were summarily removed, at the artist's request, because he was not happy about the hanging. 123 Furthermore, in one letter (and it is not clear whether this dates from an earlier, unidentified exhibition, or a later request) Whistler wrote to Marcus Bourne Huish (1843-1904), refusing to lend 'the Portrait of my Mother':

'At their own request, I lent them the Portrait of my Mother - and I learned that they hung it disgracefully -

This I have on the best possible authority - Doubtless the Committee does not think that the picture was at all badly placed - and this makes it all the more important that I should never entrust them with any other work of mine - for surely you will acknowledge that it is folly indeed that I should again submit to their judgement a painting that has established for itself a reputation that entitles it to respect, so that after hanging on "the line" in a place of honor in the Salon, I should find it in the Provinces relegated to the second or third tier, because the Manchester Committee have thought fit to place it according to their opinion instead of accepting it as an honored loan, requiring no further sitting in council on their part.' 124

1888: MUNICH.

Robert Koehler (1850-1917), of the American Artists' Club in Munich, hearing that Whistler had agreed to exhibit 'in the section for England' asked if he could spare work for the American section, and when he agreed, asked how much wall space he would require. Unfortunately there was insufficient space for the thirteen oils, twenty watercolours, seven pastels and thirty etchings sent by Whistler and they remained in the British section. 125 Although it was not in the catalogue, 'Der Künstlers Mutter' was awarded a second-class gold medal, and Whistler wrote, memorably, to the Central Committee: 'Pray convey my sentiments of tempered and respectable joy to the Gentlemen of the Committee, and my complete appreciation of the second-class compliment paid me.' 126

1889: GLASGOW, LONDON.

The portrait was requested for the 28th Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Glasgow, 1889, and Whistler agreed to lend if it was insured for 1000 guineas and returned in time for the Exposition Universelle, Champs de Mars, Paris, 1889. 127 In the end, the painting did not make it to Paris, and instead went to the large Whistler exhibition organised by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) at the College for Men and Women, which opened on 2 May 1889, but had no catalogue. 128

1889: AMSTERDAM.

Elbert Jan van Wisselingh (1848-1912) encouraged Whistler to send the portrait to the Municipal Exhibition, 'I certainly think it is worth while and I know beforehand that it will be well spoken of by some of our art-critics and highly thought of by our best artists', and, he added, it might help him to sell Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket y181! 129 Van Wisselingh showed Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother to Reinhard Boelens, Baron van Lynden (1827-1896), and his wife, the artist Ida Wilhelmina Boelens (1848-1899), née van den Bergh, Baroness van Lynden, and they wondered if Whistler would be prepared to paint 'a similar portrait of their mother a lady far advanced in years.' 130 This potential commission came to nothing, but Whistler's paintings, including the portrait of his mother, were awarded a gold medal in the exhibition. 131 The painting was retained in Amsterdam briefly, because Whistler considered sending it to Paris. 132

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL, MS Whistler PH5/2
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL, MS Whistler PH5/2

1891-1892: PARIS & LONDON.

Thomson suggested to Whistler that the portrait of his mother should be offered to the Musée du Luxembourg. Whistler agreed, and it was sent to Maurice Joyant (1864-1930) at Goupil's Paris branch for exhibition. 133 After the successful sale of Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother to the Luxembourg, Whistler thanked Joyant effusively for 'bonne volonté, d'energie et de tact, à mon égard, dans cette occasion òu votre grande appréciation artistique a tant activé le resultat.' 134 Although the painting was in Paris and not available for show in London, a photograph of Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother was shown in Whistler's retrospective Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces in 1892.

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:

EXHIBITIONS:

Journals 1906-Present

Newspapers 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 101).

2: A. M. Whistler to Kate Palmer, 3-4 November 1871, GUW #10071. The MP was William Graham (1817-1885).

3: 29 November 1871, GUW #06547.

4: Whistler to W. Greaves, [October/November 1871]. GUW #11469.

5: A. M. Whistler to Kate Palmer, 3-4 November 1871, GUW #10071.

6: A. M. Whistler to J. H. Gamble, 10-20 April 1872, GUW #06549.

7: Whistler to C. W. Deschamps, [11/13 December 1872], [20 December 1872], and [December 1872], GUW #07906, #11438, and #07905; H. Gee to C. W. Deschamps, 3 September 1873, GUW #11974. A photograph sent to S. P. Avery, signed by Whistler and dated '72', and signed by the sitter on 22 June 1873, is in New York Public Library.

8: 104th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1872 (cat. no. 941).

9: Whistler to Mrs E. D. Wallace, [1 April 1876], GUW #09550.

10: Graves to Whistler, 26 November 1878, GUW #01798.

11: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 101st exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1883 (cat. no. 2441).

12: A. Graves to Whistler, 26 November 1878, GUW #01798.

13: Whistler to Robert Koehler, [June 1888], GUW #04202.

14: III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1888 (not in catalogue).

15: 28th Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Glasgow, 1889 (not numbered in catalogue).

16: Tentoonstelling van Kunstwerken van Levende Meesters, Amsterdam, 1889 (cat. no. 468).

17: 1st exhibition, Society of Portrait Painters, London, 1891 (cat. no. 224).

18: Whistler to R. de Montesquiou, [20 November 1891], GUW #11554.

19: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 44).

20: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 23) in ordinary and deluxe edition respectively.

21: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 101).

22: Unidentified press cutting (Whistler noted that it might have come from the 'Hour or Chronicle'), GUL Whistler PC1, p. 9.

23: Whistler 1878 A [more] (reprinted in Whistler 1890 [more], pp. 126-28).

24: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 138.

25: A. M. Whistler to K. Palmer, 3-4 November 1871, GUW #10071.

26: Ibid.

27: Ibid.

28: A. M. Whistler to Kate Palmer, 3-4 November 1871, GUW #10071.

29: A. M. Whistler to J. H. Gamble, 10-20 April 1872, GUW #06549.

30: A. M. Whistler to K. Palmer, 21 May-3 June [1872, GUW #09938.

31: D. G. Rossetti to Whistler, [October/November 1871], GUW #09415.

32: A. M. Whistler to Gamble, 10-20 April 1872, GUW #06549.

33: Quoted by Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 170.

34: Swinburne 1888 [more].

35: Watts to Whistler, 14 July 1891, GUW #06070; reply, [15/22 July 1891], GUW #06071 and #10074.

36: Chase to E. G. Kennedy, 22 May [1896], GUW #09872.

37: MacDonald 2003b [more], including Georgia Toutziari, 'Anna Matilda Whistler: A Life', pp.13-27; Margaret F. MacDonald, 'The Painting of Whistler's Mother', pp. 29-63; Margaret F. MacDonald and Joy Newton, 'The selling of Whistler's Mother', pp. 65-79; Kevin Sharp, 'Pleasant Dreams: Whistler's Mother on tour in America, 1932-4', pp. 81-99; William Vaughan, 'A chance meeting of Whistler and Freud? Artists and their mothers in modern times', pp. 101-119; Martha Tedeschi, ' The face that launched a thousand images: Whistler's Mother and popular culture', pp. 121-41.

38: Musée d'Orsay website at http://www.musee-orsay.fr.

39: Prettejohn 2007 [more], p. 196.

40: Meier-Graefe 1908 [more], vol. 2, pp. 199-200.

41: Quoted in Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 169.

42: Gibson, Frank, ‘Whistler’s Portrait of his Mother’ in ‘Notes’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 28, 1915-1916, p. 117.

43: MacDonald 1975 [more], at pp. 82-83. Albumen print, Special Collections, Glasgow University Library, Whistler PH3/23.

44: See MacDonald 1975 [more]; MacDonald 2003b [more].

45: Way 1912 [more], p. 71.

46: Bacher 1909 [more], pp. 41-42.

47: Moore 1893 [more], p. 10.

48: Gallatin 1913 A [more] (cat. no. 36) Walter Greaves, 'In Whistler's studio; the portrait of his mother on an easel. Dated 1869.' [sic]

49: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 168.

50: Quoted in Marchant 1911 [more].

51: Prettejohn 2007 [more], pp. 194-98.

52: The photographer, John Robert Parsons (1925/1826-1909), was an associate of Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890) and also photographed works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) at that time.

53: Whistler to J. E. Boehm, 20 November [1878], GUW #00322.

54: Walden, Sarah, 'Rethinking Whistler's Mother: Restoration Reveals Secrets of an American Icon', Architectural Digest, September 1991, vol. 48, pp. 42-46. Walden 2003 [more].

55: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017. See also Parkerson 2007 [more].

56: A. M. Whistler to J. H. Gamble, 10-20 April 1872, GUW #06549.

57: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 21 February [1892], GUW #08212.

58: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [3 March 1892], GUW #08349.

59: 13 [June] 1892, GUW #09685.

60: Whistler to the Sheriff, [28 February 1874], GUW #12261.

61: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 226.

62: 'American Artists in London, What they have done for Philadelphia', New York Herald, New York, 10 April 1876, p. 5. Press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 2, p. 2.

63: A. Graves to Whistler, 9 September 1878, GUW #01797; Howell to Graves, 9 September and 6 November 1878, GUW #02184 and #02185.

64: Pennell 1921C [more], vol. 1, p. 227; see Pennell, Joseph, and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, The Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection of Whistleriana Shown in Division of Prints, Library of Congress, Southwest Pavilion , Washington, 1921, pp. 60-61; and A. Graves to Whistler, 9 May 1882, GUW #01806.

65: A. Graves to Whistler, 26 November 1878, GUW #01798.

66: C. A. Howell, [1 January 1879], GUW #02412; Subscription forms, GUW #02412, #11902, #02838, #11682; 1 May 1879, GUW #02835. Way 1912 [more], p. 13.

67: The London Bankruptcy Court to J. A. Rose, 7 May 1879, GUW #11711.

68: Howell to Whistler, 25 August 1879, GUW #02187.

69: Receipt signed by H. Graves, GUW #01800. Business records, H. Graves & Co., [29 September 1887], [September 1887], and [26 December 1888], GUW #11465, #10923, #10926 and #01827.

70: Eddy 1903 [more], p. 54.

71: Whistler to H. Graves, 19 June [1882], GUW #10916; see also H. Ribbing to Whistler, 14 January 1885, GUW #01819.

72: Whistler to W. B. Pearsall, [4/11 December 1884], GUW #08109.

73: [1 September 1885], GUW #00594 and see also GUW #13337; Roof, Katharine Metcalf, The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase, New York, 1975, pp. 140-43.

74: Helen Lenoir to Whistler, 9 and 20 December 1886, 29 and 31 January and 15 April 1887, GUW #00932, #00933, #00936, #00937, #00938.

75: Lewis and Lewis to Whistler, 26 June 1888, GUW #02538.

76: A. Graves to Whistler, 20 November 1888, GUW #01825; H. Graves to Whistler, [26 November 1888], GUW #10926.

77: Marchant 1911 [more], republished 1922, p. 19.

78: M. Joyant to D. C. Thomson, 13 October 1891, GUW #00379.

79: J. Whistler to B. Whistler, [28/29 October 1891], GUW #06601. Antonin Proust (1832-1905) had been replaced by Henri Roujon (1853-1914). See also S. Mallarmé to Whistler, [3 November 1891], GUW #03817.

80: Geffroy 1891 B [more], p. 1. Whistler to Mallarmé, [7 November 1891], GUW #03818.

81: Mallarmé to Whistler, [9 November 1891], GUW #03819. Duret 1888 [more], repr. f.p. 216.

82: [10 November 1891], GUW #03820.

83: Mallarmé to Whistler, and replies, [11, 13, 14 and 16 November 1891], GUW #03821, #03822, #03823 and #03824.

84: T. Duret to Whistler, 18 November 1891, GUW #00988; Margaret F. MacDonald and Joy Newton, ‘The Selling of Whistler’s Mother’, American Society of the Legion of Honor Magazine, vol. 49, 1978, pp. 97-120.

85: Bourgeois to Whistler, 19 November 1891, GUW #01494; reply, 23 November 1891, GUW #01495; see also Whistler to Mallarmé, [20 and 24 November 1891], GUW #03825, and Bourgeois' letter of congratulations, 30 November 1891, GUW #01497.

86: Mallarmé to Whistler, [24 November 1891], GUW #03828; reply, [25 November 1891], GUW #09301; Duret to Whistler, 27 November 1891, GUW #00989; R. Marx to Duret, [27 November 1891], GUW #04025; Mallarmé to Whistler, [27 November 1891], GUW #03829; Bourgeois to Whistler, 30 November 1891, GUW #01497; Bourgeois to unknown recipient, 30 November 1891, GUW #12318; Mallarmé to Whistler, [30 November 1891], GUW #13464; Whistler to Bourgeois, 9 December 1891, GUW #01498; Ministère de l'instruction publique et des beaux-arts, record of purchase, 20 March 1892, GUW #12315.

87: [30 November 1891], GUW #13464; see M. Joyant to Whistler, 4 December 1891, GUW #00381, draft reply, [5 December 1891], GUW #10474.

88: Montesquiou 1892 [more]; Montesquiou 1893 A [more]; Munhall 1995 [more].

89: Whistler to Henri Roujon, [30 January 1892], GUW #05252.

90: [27 November 1891], GUW #03829; see also P. Beurdeley to Whistler, 2 December 1891, GUW #00296; C. Monet to Whistler, 4 December 1891, GUW #04097; Whistler to Mallarmé, [7 December 1891], GUW #03831; Chelsea Arts Club to Whistler, 9 December 1891, GUW #00598.

91: Fonds Montesquiou, Bibliothèque Nationale; MacDonald, Margaret F. and Joy Newton, 'The Selling of Whistler's Mother', American Society of the Legion of Honor Magazine, vol. 49, 1978, pp. 97-120.

92: Bancroft to Whistler, 1 and 17 December 1891, GUW #00244 and #00246; Mansfield to Whistler, 25 February 1892, GUW #03997.

93: Mallarmé to Whistler, 23 December 1891, GUW #13466; Whistler to B. Whistler, [19 January 1892], GUW #06607.

94: Whistler to Dr W. Whistler, [1/14 February 1892], GUW#07006.

95: Draft letter to a Duke, possibly George Charles Spencer-Churchill (1844-1892), 8th Duke of Marlborough, [25/31 January 1892], GUW #13544; and to Frederick Jameson, [29 January 1892], GUW #10826.

96: [December 1891], GUW #10996, and [9/16 January 1892], GUW #05472; the purchase was briefly reported by 'Our own correspondent', 'France', The Times, London, 30 November 1891, p. 5, and more extensively by Smalley: G. W. S., 'Mr. Whistler: His Entrance into the Luxembourg ...' New York Daily Tribune, 17 January 1892 (GUL Whistler PC 13/2).

97: [19 March 1892], GUW #09676; see also B. Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 1 May 1892, GUW #09677.

98: [19 March 1892], GUW #11670.

99: [29 July 1899], GUW #03196.

100: T. R. Way to Whistler, 17 January 1892, GUW #06092; 9 April 1892, GUW #06095. See also Way to Whistler, 7 December 1891, GUW #06090, and D. C. Thomson to Whistler, 21 December 1891, GUW #05680.

101: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [13 April 1892], GUW #08340.

102: [30 September 1892], GUW #03321.

103: [2 April 1872], GUW #11971.

104: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, pp. 157-58.

105: 'Reminiscences', [1886/1887], GUW #08699.

106: 'Exhibition of the Royal Academy' (Second Notice), The Times, London, 21 May 1872, p. 7. This is among several press cuttings, possibly removed from an earlier album and stuck higgledy piggledy into an album in the 1870s, GUL Whistler PC1, p. 9.

107: Unidentified press cutting [1872], GUL Whistler PC1, p. 9; 'Fine Arts. Mr Whistler's Paintings and Etchings, Evening Standard, London, 24 June 1874; GUL Whistler PC1, p. 69. In the second version, the critic added one comment: 'A couple of seasons back we spoke of a portrait of the painter’s mother, which was exhibited at Burlington House, under the fanciful title "An Arrangement in Black and White," which is now changed to "An Arrangement in Grey and Black".'

108: Note by Sickert beside unidentified press cutting, GUL Whistler PC 1, p. 9.

109: [August 1872], GUW #08041.

110: A. M. Whistler to M. E. H. Eastwick, 19 July 1876, GUW #12635.

111: 'Mr Whistler's Pictures', The Hour, [1874], GUL Whistler PC 1, p. 71.

112: 20 November [1878], GUW #00322. See also High Court of Justice to J. A. Rose, 25 November 1878, GUW #11991; Whistler to J. A. Rose, [November 1878], GUW #08784; J. A. Rose, note, [25-26 November 1878], GUW #11914; A. Graves to Whistler, 26 November 1878, GUW #01798.

113: Whistler to H. Graves, 4 September 1881, GUW #10915; Whistler to H. E. Ionides, [September 1881], GUW #06694.

114: Whistler to O. Wilde, [May 1883], GUW #11714.

115: Whistler to J. A. Chapman, [May/June 1883], GUW #09034. Whistler seems to have mislaid the medal, and J. Whitehead wrote to E. G. Brown on 15 December 1902, offering to return it to Whistler in exchange for a drawing (GUW #01385).

116: See Margaret F. MacDonald and Joy Newton, 'The selling of Whistler's Mother', and Martha Tedeschi, 'The Face That Launched a Thousand Images: Whistler's Mother and popular culture' in MacDonald 2003b [more], pp. 69-70, and 121-141.

117: Le Rappel, Paris, 26 May 1883; Bigot 1883 [more].

118: Press cuttings in GUL Whistler PC 6-7.

119: Brownell 1883 [more].

120: G. R. Halkett to the Scotsman, 3 October 1884, GUW #11748; Halkett 1884 [more].

121: Whistler to H. Graves, [June/November 1884], GUW #10929; A. Graves to Whistler, 17 November 1884, GUW #01818.

122: Whistler to Pearsall, [4/11 December 1884], GUW #08109. Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, pp. 35-36.

123: Whistler to George William Agnew (1852-1941), [16/18 April] 1887, GUW #03983; G. W. Agnew to Whistler, 18 April 1887, GUW #03984.

124: Whistler to M. B. Huish, dating from after 1883, and possibly [1/18 April 1887], GUW #02979;

125: Koehler to Whistler, 3 and 17 April 1888, 28 May 1888, GUW #04200, #04201, #04205; list by Whistler, 1888, GUW #04202.

126: [3 September 1888], GUW #07979; published with variations in several newspapers. See Whistler, James McNeill, [Letter to the Central Committee of the International Art Exhibition, Munich], The World: A Journal For Men and Women, 5 September 1888, p. 17. Reprinted in Whistler 1892 [more], p. 229.

127: Whistler to R. Walker, 13 December 1888, GUW #03515; again, it was not in the catalogue. A painting wrongly attributed to Whistler, Dream of Morning off Gravesend, was also exhibited in Glasgow (cat. no. 472) but was quickly removed after Whistler protested. Whistler to R. Walker, 12 February 1889, GUW #03521, #03524; Whistler to The Baillie, [20 February 1889], GUW #00233.

128: Evening News, London, 14 May 1889, GUL Whistler PC 10, p. 91. See Sickert, Walter R., 'The Private Galleries', New York Herald, New York, 4 May 1889.

129: 28 June [1889], GUW #07101.

130: E. J. van Wisselingh to Whistler, 9 August 1889, GUW #07102.

131: Burgomaster, Amsterdam, to Whistler, 8 October 1889, GUW #00160.

132: C. J. W. Hanson to E. J. van Wisselingh, 21 November 1889, GUW #03560.

133: Joyant to Whistler, [January 1892], formerly dated [January 1891], GUW #07838;

134: [16/18 November 1891], GUW #07841.