Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow


Frances Philip

Title: Mrs John Birnie Philip
Birthname: Black
Nationality: English
Date of birth: 1824
Place of birth: Westminster
Date of death: 19 March 1917
Category: relative, sitter


Frances Philip, née Black, was Whistler's mother-in-law. She was the daughter of John Black, a clerk, and Frances Black (b. 1800, London). On 4 June 1853 she married the sculptor John Birnie Philip.

In the 1871 census the Birnie Philip household consisted of John B. Philip, aged 46, sculptor; Frances, his wife, aged 45; Constance, aged 17, an art student; and several younger children, Beatrice, then 13; Ethel, 9; Phllippe [sic] M., 5; Frances S., 3; and John F., 1, plus one elderly servant, Sarah Waring, aged 71 from Canterbury.

Altogether they had ten children: Constance (b. 1854), Beatrice (b. 1857), Edith (b. 1859), Ethel (b. 1861), Jane Bertha (b. 1864), Philippa Maude (b. 1865), Frances Septima (b. 1867), John Francis (b. 1869), Ronald Murray (b. 1871) and Rosalind Birnie (b. 1873). In 1881, that is, after the death of her husband, she was staying with her mother Frances and two of the children (Ronald and Rosalind) in the High Street, Heathedge, Haslemere, Surrey.


Beatrice married the architect and designer E. W. Godwin in 1876, before marrying Whistler in 1888, subsequent to Godwin's death in 1886. Rosalind, who acted as companion, model, secretary and house keeper for Whistler after Beatrix's death, was appointed Whistler's executrix at his death. Ethel married the American journalist and writer Charles Whibley in 1894. Ronald was a civil engineer who in 1900-01 accompanied Whistler on a trip to Gibraltar, Algiers, Tangiers, Marseilles and Corsica. Beatrice, Ethel, Ronald and Rosalind all acted as models at different times for Whistler.

Not only Frances' children but, after the death of Beatrice, Frances herself became a part of Whistler's life, she and her daughter Rosalind keeping house for the artist. Around 1896 she posed with one of her daughters, possibly Rosalind or Ethel, for Mrs Birnie Philip and a daughter m1457. They also appear in a lithograph, Afternoon Tea c173. She also modelled for Whistler for The Artist's mother-in-law, Mrs Birnie Philip m1704.

In 1899 Whistler took a house for Frances and Rosalind at Pourville, near Dieppe. In 1900 they were to be found with Whistler in Paris at 110 rue du Bac. In this year Whistler also took a house at Sutton near Dublin for the two women. In 1902 they lived with Whistler at 74 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.

At her death in 1917 in her house at 103 Albert Bridge Road, Frances' daughter Rosalind was at her side.


UK census 1881; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908 ; 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 .

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.