James Abbott McNeill Whistler

1 portrait of James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, by Sir (John) Bernard Partridge, late 1880s -NPG 3541 - © reserved; collection National Portrait Gallery, London

© reserved; collection National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

by Sir (John) Bernard Partridge
Bodycolour with traces of pen and ink and pencil, on paper lined onto thin white card, late 1880s
10 3/8 in. x 5 3/8 in. (264 mm x 137 mm)
NPG 3541


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Inscriptionback to top

Signed with initials in black paint lower right-hand corner: ‘J:B:P. / ’;
and inscr. bottom centre with butterfly symbol.
On back, label (now removed to NPG RP 3541) inscr. in ink: ‘J.M.C. Whistler / by J. Bernard Partridge. / Drawn in late ’eighties, when the / artist has[sic] been in the same room as Whistler for half an hour. only’.

This portraitback to top

The drawings (John) Bernard Partridge made of Whistler are early works of the mid to late 1880s, when Partridge was just beginning his career as an illustrator. [1] A.E. Gallatin did not include this drawing among the Partridge portraits listed in his 1918 iconography of Whistler: these were no.203, a pen and ink drawing reproduced in the Lady’s Pictorial, 28 February 1885 (untraced), and no.204, ‘At the Whistleries’, a drawing reproduced in Judy, 8 December 1886 (now Harvard University AM, Cambridge). [2]

Another image by Partridge not listed by Gallatin is the 1886 caricature wood-engraving of Whistler wearing a woman’s dress, ‘The White Feather’ (Dept of Special Colls, U. of Glasgow). [3] In 1892, inspired by the publicity surrounding the Goupil Gallery exhibition, Nocturnes, Marines and Chevalet Pieces, Partridge drew a cartoon for Punch (‘A Brother Pastellist’, publ. 9 April 1892); however, this drawing does not include an image of Whistler himself. [4]

According to an old label from the drawing, apparently inscribed in Partridge’s hand, NPG 3541 was executed in the late 1880s, after the two men had been in a room together for just half an hour. Whistler is portrayed as a dapper figure in evening dress, neither flattered nor caricatured, and evidently in mocking mood. Partridge’s choice of monochrome gouache is a deliberate nod to his sitter, the only warm colour allowed being on the outstretched hand. In this and all other Partridge drawings of Whistler the sitter’s butterfly symbol is reproduced beside the artist’s own signature.

Ten years later, when designing his woodcut of Whistler in 1897, William Nicholson may have had this drawing in mind, as it shares chromatic and compositional similarities (see ‘All known portraits, By other artists, c.1897’). It is also possible that Partridge and Nicholson arrived at the pose independently as one most characteristic.

The drawing was accepted by the National Portrait Gallery as a gift in 1947, though apparently it had been informally accepted some years earlier: ‘I cannot remember the date’, wrote the donor Mrs Lamont in 1947, ‘but it was before the war when Mr C.F. Bell was one of the Trustees. He is a very old friend & he took it to a meeting & told me the Gallery would be very glad to receive it.’ [5]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) See also Houfe 1996.
2) ‘At the Whistleries’ referred to the portraits Whistler exhibited at the SBA, Nov. 1886. See Denker 1995, pp.83–5, fig.3:31 for reproduction.
3) Repr. Denker 1995, p.84, fig.3:30.
4) ‘Another Whistlerian touch was given to the exhibition by its being announced that artists would be admitted free every morning up to eleven o’clock, and many dozens took advantage of this privilege, which formed the basis of a clever drawing in Punch by Mr Bernard Partridge.’ Pennell & Pennell 1908, vol.2, p.122.
5) Letter from Mrs L.M. Lamont to C.K. Adams, 17 June 1947, NPG RP 3541. Charles Francis Bell (1871–1966), Keeper, Ashmolean M., Oxford. See also the correspondence with Martin Secker regarding the drawing when mislaid, June 1947, NPG RP 3541. This gift was not minuted in the NPG Reports of the Trustees of the late 1930s.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length to left, head turned three-quarters to viewer, with monocle, white lock, moustache and goatee, wearing evening dress, flower in left lapel, left hand in pocket, right hand extended holding cigarette. Image framed in painted black border.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1993.

Provenanceback to top

Given by Mrs L.M. Lamont, June 1947.

Exhibitionsback to top

The Past We Share, Pollock Galleries, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, 1967 (25, no catalogue).

In Pursuit of the Butterfly: Portraits of James McNeill Whistler, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, 1995 (no cat. no.).

Aubrey Beardsley: A Centenary Tribute, Kawasaki City Museum, Kanagawa; Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama; and Museum of Modern Art, Gunma, Japan, 1998 (10).

The Wilde Years, Barbican Art Gallery, London, 2000–2001 (114).

Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century, National Gallery, London, 2006 (45).

Reproductionsback to top

Cross 1992, p.16.

Denker 1995, frontispiece.

Wilson & Zatlin 1998, p.47.

Sato, Lambourne & Holland 2000, p.24.

Sturgis et al. 2006, p.131, no.45.

View all known portraits for James Abbott McNeill Whistler