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


Carmen Rossi

Title: Mme Rossi
Birthname: Carmela Caïra or Caira
Nationality: Italian
Date of birth: ca 1878
Place of birth: Gallinaro or Naples
Category: model


Carmen Rossi was a model. Her husband may have been Italian, and may have been a piano tuner. She was probably the model 'Carmen Caïra' mentioned by Whistler to his wife in 1892.

She was the cousin of Maria Caira, wife of Cesare Vitti. Maria's sisters Anna and Jacinta Caira were also models. Both Carmen and Maria Caira ran Academies in Paris. The Académie Vitti was founded in the Boulevard de Montparnasse, Paris in 1894, and the Académie Carmen in the Passage Stanislas in 1898.


According to the Pennells, Rossi posed for Whistler as a girl in Paris, and again in the 1890s when she became one of his favourite models, posing for Crimson note: Carmen y441, Rose et or: La Napolitaine y505, Violet and Rose: Carmen qui rit y506 and Harmony in Rose and Green: Carmen y507.

In 1898 Whistler helped her to establish an art school, the Académie Carmen, in the Passage Stanislas in Paris, with Whistler and the sculptor Frederick MacMonnies as visiting tutors. Carl Frieseke, Gwen John, Inez Bate and Clifford Addams were among the pupils. The latter two became Whistler's apprentices. The school closed in 1901.

Whilst running the Académie, Rossi was suspected of stealing drawings and paintings from Whistler's studio but Whistler was so fond of her that he never took action against her, although he attempted to do so against the dealers who bought things from her. In October 1901 Rossi had sold some of his pictures to the Parisian art dealer Hessele and Whistler tried to persuade her to make a list of them. In June 1902 Rossi agreed to help Whistler recover a portrait of herself which she has sold through Hessele for 500 francs. According to the Pennells, C. L. Freer had Rossi followed to Rome and bought some pictures from her.

She sold a number at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris after Whistler's death, including Nocturne in Blue and Silver: The Lagoon,Venice y212. She claimed that she had been given them as payment for bills Whistler owed her.


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 ; Spink, Nesta R., Harriet K. Stratis, and Martha Tedeschi, The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler, (gen. eds, Harriet K. Stratis and Martha Tedeschi), 2 vols., Chicago, 1998 . MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995 .

Andrews, Annulet, 'Cousin Butterfly: Being some Memories of Whistler', Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, vol. 73, no. 435, March 1904, pp. 318-27 . R.L. Brown, Lonely Americans, 1929, pp.76-80; Cuneo, Cyrus, 'Whistler's Academy of Painting,' The Century Magazine, vol. 73, 1906, pp. 19-28. Thorp, Nigel, 'Whistler and his Students at the Academie Carmen'', Journal of the Scottish Society for Art History, 4, 1999, pp. 42-47. N. Thorp, 'Rossi, Carmen' in Jiminez, Jill Berk (ed.) Dictionary of Artists' Models, New York and London, 2001, pp. 468-9.

'Casa Museo Académie Vitti', website. 'Académie Vitti', Wikipedia.