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

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Portrait of Henry E. Dixey


Only one title has been suggested:

  • 'Portrait of Henry E. Dixey' (1980, YMSM). 1


Jacques Émile Blanche (1861-1942) described the subject as 'un acteur en costume d'incroyable, harmonie d'opale, de gris et de rose.' 2

The Incroyables ('incredibles') and their female counterparts, the Merveilleuses ('marvellous women'), formed an aristocratic and political subculture in Paris during the French Directoire (1795–1799). They were characterised by extreme, exaggeratedly fashionable, dress, combined with effete and decadent behaviour.

 Henry E. Dixey in Adonis, photograph by Sarony, 1884
Henry E. Dixey in Adonis, photograph by Sarony, 1884

Dixey's costume was of this late 18th century period, as confirmed by another journalist, who described it as 'a superb full-length of Mr. Henry E. Dixey, in the Directoire costume, foil in hand.' 3 Dixey's costume, which showed off his muscular legs in alabaster-coloured tights and high-heeled shoes, was much admired. Most photographs of Dixey show him with a long cane, but a letter from Whistler to Dixey suggests that the inclusion of a duelling foil was being considered ('Bring with you one of your foils as well as the cane - that I may choose'). 4


 Henry E. Dixey in Adonis, photograph by Sarony, 1884
Henry E. Dixey in Adonis, photograph by Sarony, 1884

Henry E. Dixey (1859-1943) was born in Boston and became a member of the Stock Company at the Howard Athenaeum in 1868. His first great success was in Adonis, a burlesque in two acts by Gill and Dixey, which was brought to the Gaiety Theatre in London in May 1886. It was not a success: on 5 June 1886 the Athenaeum described the audience reaction:

'the Dixey troupe experienced how inhospitable and offensive an English gallery can be. An injudicious eagerness to accept encores did something to provoke the hostility shown during the latter half of the entertainment ... for those who applaud the "Little Fausts" ... and we know not what else that is little, to howl at "Adonis", which is the equal of most and is acted better than any, is absurd ... Mr. Dixey is in his way a singularly bright actor, and his imitation of Mr. Irving is the cleverest thing of the kind we can recall.' 5

Dixey later starred as a comedian in many plays both in Britain and America.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 356).

2: Blanche 1905 [more], at p. 358.

3: Undated press cutting, [1886], GUL Whistler PC 6, p. 22.

4: [June/September 1886], formerly dated 1885, GUW #09053.

5: See also Kurt Ganz, William B. Gill: From the Goldfields to Broadway, New York, 2002, pp. 204-06. See Harmony in Blue: The Duet [YMSM 196], on the burlesque, Little Dr Faust, by H. J. Byron.

Last updated: 21st November 2020 by Margaret