Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Painter and etcher
His appearance was provocative and there are many contemporary descriptions. William Merritt Chase on the contradictory aspects to Whistler:
One was Whistler in public – the fop, the cynic, the brilliant, flippant, vain and careless idler; the other was Whistler of the studio – the earnest, tireless, somber worker, a very slave to his art, a bitter foe to all pretense and sham, an embodiment of simplicity almost to the point of diffidence, an incarnation of earnestness and sincerity of purpose. 
Arthur Symons on Whistler’s appearance in later life:
I never saw any one so feverishly alive as this little, old man, with his bright, withered cheeks, over which the skin was drawn tightly, his darting eyes, under their prickly bushes of eyebrow, his fantastically-creased black and white curls of hair, his bitter and subtle mouth, and, above all, his exquisite hands, never at rest. 
The collector Arthur Jerome Eddy – who sat to Whistler in 1894 – commented on the inadequacy of Whistler’s iconography:
Nearly every sketch, drawing or portrait of Whistler gives some phase of his many-sided personality, but not one – not even those by himself – gives anything like an adequate conception. He was a man most difficult to place on canvas. He could not be grasped and held long enough. He himself tried it, but with only moderate success. Others tried and failed completely – that is, failed to portray him at his best; for that matter no one who has ever drawn or painted him did so when he was at his best, for those moments only came in the seclusion of his own studio, when, alone with model or sitter, he worked absolutely oblivious to everything but his art. No man is at his best when posing for photograph, sketch or portrait, and Whistler was farther from being an exception to this rule than most others. He knew too well what a portrait should be to feel the indifference which is essential to a perfectly natural pose. Consequently, while few men were better known by sight in Paris and London, scarce anyone knew him as he was – the most profoundly serious, conscientious, and consistent artist of his day and generation. 
Footnotesback to top
1) Whistler exhibited at the RA 1859–65, 1867, 1870, 1872 and 1879 (one print). He exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery 1877–9 and 1881–4.
2) Chase 1910, p.222.
3) Symons 1906, p.124.
4) Eddy 1903, pp.225–6.
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Harris & Ormond 1976
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Drawings and Paintings by Artists of Norfolk and Suffolk in the Collection of J.P. H[eseltine]., privately printed, London, 1914.
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Howe, Thomas Carr, Sargent and Boldini, London, 1959.
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Jackson, H., All Manner of Folk, London, 1912.
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