Algernon Graves was a printseller and dealer. He was the son of Henry Graves (1806-92), print dealer and Mary Squirell. In 1922 Algernon's wife, Elizabeth A., was aged 38; she had been born in Manchester. Their son Algernon S. Graves was aged 7 in the same year and had been born in Kensington.
Graves worked with his father Henry, in the print dealing business of H. Graves & Co. He also wrote many art reference books including comprehensive catalogues of the engraved works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1899), Sir Edwin Landseer and Sir Thomas Lawrence, and a monograph on Samuel Cousins. He compiled the lists of exhibits at the Royal Academy (1905), The British Institute, The Society of Artists of Great Britain and The Free Society of Artists; the Directory of Loan Exhibitions 1813-1912, an Index to Waagen's Treasures of Art in Great Britain and Art Sales.
The Graveses lived near Whistler when he was at 454 Fulham Road and had dealings with him from about 1877 to 1891. Graves & Co. published engravings of Whistler's paintings, and in the years before his bankruptcy they advanced Whistler money, with paintings, including Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother y101, as surety. When Whistler started to repay the loan he considered the paintings as his own property. Another was Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle y137, which went to the Salon in 1884, and to other exhibitions in subsequent years, while Whistler attempted to sell it. He did not repay the loan fully until 1891, when he sold it to the Corporation of the City of Glasgow. The copyright of this painting and Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder y203 were handed over to C.A. Howell, who arranged for them to be engraved in mezzotint by Richard Josey and published through Graves in 1880. The paintings were thus saved from the wreck of the bankruptcy.
An identification of Study of a Head y427 as a portrait of Mr Graves, a print seller, was made by Parke-Bernet in 1942, but this may be incorrect, as their extensive correspondence (Houghton Library, Harvard University) mentions no portrait. The sitter appears too young to be Henry Graves. However, a portrait by Rosa Corder of Algernon in 1878, shows that at the age of thirty-three he was plump, moustached, with receding hair, and already appeared older than the man in the portrait. According to Williamson, Whistler admired Rosa Corder's portrait of Algernon Graves but there is no evidence that Whistler painted him. A photograph of Graves reproduced by Huish in 1897 shows him with a moustache and long side-whiskers. His profile is not unlike Study of a Head, except that the chin is rather heavier. On retirement from the family firm in 1907 he became connected with the art dealers, MessrsAgnew.
UK census 1881; Graves, Algernon, 'James Abbott McNeill Whistler', Printseller and Print Collector, vol. 1, August 1903, pp. 341-45 . The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler, 1855-1903, edited by Margaret F. MacDonald, Patricia de Montfort and Nigel Thorp; including The Correspondence of Anna McNeill Whistler, 1855-1880, edited by Georgia Toutziari. Online edition, University of Glasgow, 2004.