Richard Albert Canfield was a gambler and collector.
Canfield owned a number of fashionable gambling houses in New York, Rhode Island, Saratoga Springs and Newport. Business was lucrative and he became an extremely wealthy man. However, gambling was illegal in the United States and in 1885 he served a six month sentence in Rhode Island jail for violating gaming laws. In December 1902 his New York club was raided and Canfield, who was not actually arrested, escaped to England where he lived for the next four and half months. He was a heavy drinker and overweight. However, he was also a man of culture with refined tastes in art. He owned early American and Chippendale furniture, tapestries, chinese porcelain and Barye bronzes.
Charles Lang Freer introduced Canfield to Whistler in 1899. Canfield came to own a number of paintings by Whistler including La Mère Gérard (2) y027, Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean y072, Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland y097, Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder y203, Nocturne in Blue and Silver: The Lagoon,Venice y212, Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac y398, Rose et or: La Napolitaine y505 and Grey and Gold: The Golden Bay, Ireland y537.
He also owned works in chalk, pastel and watercolour, including The Cemetery m0738, Long Venice m0748, Little Calle in San Barnaba; gold and brown m0764, Little Canal, San Barnaba; flesh colour and grey m0777, The Little Back Canal m0779, Courtyard on Canal; grey and red m0790, Nocturne - The Riva m0799, Return of the fishing boats m1036, Blue and Silver - Afternoon, the Channel m1045, Grey and Pink m1209, r.: The Blue Girl; v.: Woman holding a fan m1223, Blue and Violet - Iris m1278, The Conversation m1289, Violet and Silver: The Afternoon Dream m1298, The Pink Cap m1308, Green and Blue: The Dancer m1376, The Captive m1524, The Bead Stringers m1530, Opal and Gold - Pourville Evening m1591, r.: Grey and Gold - Belle Isle; v.: Study for 'Grey and Gold - Belle Isle' m1595, Gray and Silver: The Golf Links, Dublin m1620, The Dancer (No.1) m1624, The Dancer (No.2) m1625, At Sea m1642, Shop, Algiers m1650, The Café - Algiers m1651, Street, Algiers m1652, Street, Corsica m1653, Street - Ajaccio m1654, r.: The Forge; v.: Smiths, Ajaccio m1679, r.: Blue and Silver: Morning - Ajaccio; v.: Building and trees m1694 and r.: The Gossips. Ajaccio; v.: group of people m1695.
In May 1901 Canfield commissioned a portrait from Whistler. He started to pose for Portrait of Richard A. Canfield y547 in March 1902. According to Alexander Gardiner, Canfield returned to Europe to sit for Whistler at the New Year in 1903, and sat every day until 16 May 1903. However, Whistler was ill and frail at this time and the work was Whistler's last completed portrait. The deceptive air of respectability that the portrait gave Canfield caused Whistler to call it 'His Reverence'. The two men were in correspondence from 1901 until Whistler's death. Neither the Pennells nor E. G. Kennedy approved of the friendship.
Canfield amassed the most important collection of Whistler's work in America after Freer. A few months before his death in 1914 he sold his collection of etchings, lithographs, drawings and paintings by Whistler to the American art dealer Roland F. Knoedler for $300,000.
Gardiner, Alexander, Canfield: the True Story of the Greatest Gambler, Garden City, N.Y., 1930; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer, and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980 ; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995 Munhall, Edgar, Whistler and Montesquiou. The Butterfly and the Bat, New York, 1995 .
The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler, 1855-1903, edited by Margaret F. MacDonald, Patricia de Montfort and Nigel Thorp, University of Glasgow, 2003; website.