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

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Portrait of Henry E. Dixey

Portrait of Henry E. Dixey was started in 1886, and possibly continued later in the 1880s.

1886: Henry E. Dixey (1859-1943) was the star and co-author of a burlesque, Adonis: A Perversion of Common Sense, by William Gill, in which a statue comes to life, but finds humans so unpleasant that he willingly turns back into marble, after impersonating famous people along the way. It played successfully at the Bijou Theatre, New York, from 4 September 1884 until May 1886, when it transferred to London. It opened at the Gaiety on 31 May 1886.

It was in the costume of the chief character that Dixey posed. 'I can never see your most artistic and dainty performance too often.' wrote Whistler, 'Will Monday next be all right for the first sitting? Two o'clock.' 1 On 11 September 1886 the Sporting Gazette reported that Whistler was thinking of going to America, and added : 'His soul is in his portrait of Mr. Dixey. This is a wondrous piece of work, I hear.' 2 Sittings were interrupted when Dixey returned to America in September 1886, as a journalist reported:

'Mr Whistler has painted a superb full-length of Mr. Henry E. Dixey, in the Directoire costume, foil in hand. The figure is full of dignity, grace, elegance, and life, the colour harmony is perfectly beautiful, and the whole thing, in Mr. Whistler's greatest manner, is a triumph of art. Unfortunately, Mr. Dixey's departure from London prevented the picture being quite finished, but Mr. Whistler proposed completing it during his visit to America in November, and it will probably be exhibited at next year's Salon, where it is sure to be recognised as a masterpiece. Mr. Dixey himself is enthusiastic about the picture.' 3

1887: On 2 June 1887 the Boston Herald reported that 'Mr. Whistler is to paint, or rather complete painting, the portrait of Henry Dixey, who has recently come over to this side of the water.'

1888: On 10 July 1888 the New York Tribune announced: '[Henry Dixey] who sailed for Europe last week, took with him his costume of the Chevalier in "Adonis", in which he will sit for Mr. Whistler ... for a portrait which was almost finished when Mr. Dixey was last in London.' 4 There is, however, no record of further sittings.

Note: The artist Jacques Émile Blanche (1861-1942) wrote that he saw 'un acteur en costume d'incroyable, harmonie d'opale, de gris et de rose' in Whistler's studio in 1884. 5 Blanche was almost certainly wrong about the date, as it seems too much of a coincidence for Whistler to have worked on two portraits of an actor in an 'incroyable' costume.


1: Whistler to Dixey, [June/September 1886], formerly dated 1885, GUW #01010,

2: Sporting Gazette, London, 11 September 1886, p. 7.

3: Undated press cutting, [September/October 1886], GUL Whistler PC 6, p. 22. Whistler had been planning a lecture tour in America for a year, since November 1885, but postponed it indefinitely.

4: Press cuttings in GUL Whistler PC 10, pp. 14, 19.

5: Blanche 1905 [more], at p. 358. Quoted in YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 356).

Last updated: 21st November 2020 by Margaret