James Abbott McNeill Whistler

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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James Abbott McNeill Whistler

by Unknown photographer
platinum print, Summer 1885
7 in. x 4 5/8 in. (178 mm x 118 mm)
Purchased, 1987
Primary Collection
NPG P356

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 109 Read entry

    Restless, volatile and eccentric, the American Impressionist painter Whistler, who chose as his emblem the butterfly, came to London in 1859 and settled in Chelsea in 1863. This photograph was taken in the garden of his studio in the Fulham Road in the summer of 1885, when he and his fellow-American William Merritt Chase were painting portraits of one another. Whistler's painting of Chase is lost, but it showed him 'full-length in frock coat and top hat, a cane held jauntily across his legs … the Masher of the Avenues'. In this photograph Whistler himself poses as a 'masher', a dandy and lady-killer, with his mahlstick under his arm, doing duty for a cane, perhaps in parody of his own painting.

    In another photograph from this session Whistler appears with Chase and an artist friend, Mortimer Menpes, and it is possible that Menpes took both photographs.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 657

Events of 1885back to top

Current affairs

Redistribution Act; continues Gladstone's extensive package of electoral reform, although his Liberal government is later defeated when the Irish Nationalists, seeking support for Home Rule, side with the Conservatives over a budget measure. The Marquess of Salisbury is invited to form a 'caretaker' government.

Art and science

The Dictionary of National Biography is first published quarterly, under the editorship of Leslie Stephen, and sub-editorship of Sidney Lee. Volume 63 completed the work in 1900. Setting new standards in life writing, the DNB exemplified the form of the brief biography, formalising a style and approach to writing lives, based on Stephen's guiding principles of selection and presentation in 'business-like form'.


The death of the famous General Charles Gordon sparks outrage in Britain. Sent to the Sudan to evacuate Egyptian forces from Khartoum, threatened by Sudanese rebels under Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, Khartoum quickly came under siege, and Gordon is killed and beheaded two days before the relief force arrived. The British public proclaimed Gordon a martyr, and attacked government, particularly Gladstone, for not relieving British forces earlier.

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