Portrait of Miss Marion Peck was started in 1895 and continued until at least 1900. 1
1895: It was commissioned by the sitter's mother, Annah Burrough Peck née Luther (1847-1900) (Mrs Harold Stanton Peck) of Chicago, for $2000 (£400) in March 1895. 2 Whistler told Mrs Peck his prices and added: 'it would be, for me, a rare delight to paint your daughter! … Seldom indeed has one the wonderful chance of daintiness and lovely colour combined!' 3 On 25 March the artist agreed to a price of £400, half to be paid in advance, and suggested the first sitting should be the following day, 'If the dress be ready, and you are able to bring Miss Peck tomorrow to the studio, ... we might begin to arrange the composition of the picture.' 4 On 20 April, he acknowledged receipt of £200. 5
John James Cowan (1846-1936) wrote that on 4 June 1895, in Paris, sittings for his portrait, Arrangement in Grey and Green: Portrait of J. J. Cowan [YMSM 402], were interrupted by the arrival of Miss Peck in 'book muslin rigged up for the occasion.' 6 Whistler complained to E. G. Kennedy (who was also waiting for the completion of his portrait) on 9 June 1895:
'I daresay we shall manage some morning soon - Though not before the departure of the Chicago beauty -
It is too absolutely devilish - but of late all these beautiful things that I undertake are interfered with and my elbow jogged by the people wanting to go off on such a steamer!
No masterpiece should be subjected to such nonsense.' 7
On 18 June he added, 'The Peck picture is perforce to be finished by Thursday.' 8 The picture was supposedly completed, and Whistler acknowledged receipt of a further £200 on 25 June 1895, promising to send the picture when dry. 9 He did not, however, send it to America.
1896: When the Pecks arrived in Europe and offered to come for sittings, Whistler replied that he was delighted at the chance 'to make perfect the work that is to hand down the little American Duchess!' 10 On May 12 Whistler wrote to the sitter that despite the death of his wife, he was prepared to continue sittings, as 'this particular picture was always one in which my wife took great pleasure.' 11 He asked Miss Peck to come to 8 Fitzroy Street, London, adding, 'The dress and slipper are as I told you ready for you - so that you will only have to bring your cloak and long gloves.' 12
On 12 November 1896 the New York Sun reported that Mrs Peck said her daughter had given Whistler over 90 sittings but he refused to send the portrait to Chicago.
1897: After the marriage of Miss Peck to William Richman Farquhar (1860-1952), sittings were continued in London in March and July, but were interrupted by Whistler's illness in October. 13 Whistler arranged to have the portrait photographed, and hoped to have it for the Salon in the following year. 14
1898: On 21 January Whistler wrote thanking Mrs Farquhar for her 'kindness - and sympathy - and charming courtesy in the studio.' 15 In April, Miss Birnie Philip told J. J. Cowan, 'Miss Peck's picture, you will be pleased to hear he at length considers rather beautiful! - which he thinks is admitting a lot.' 16
1899: On 1 September Whistler wrote to the sitter's husband, W. R. Farquhar, that he wished to return the 400 guineas to Mrs Farquhar because although 'Your wife's portrait has been for me an ideal picture with which I have hitherto never been able to satisfy myself', it needed another three weeks for 'the few sittings required for its perfection.' 17 Therefore, on 26 November, further sittings were proposed, to start on 6 December 1899, and Whistler agreed to show them the picture, writing, 'I suppose one cannot refuse anything to the "little American Princess"!' 18
1900: Sittings continued from January on, until Mrs Farquhar became pregnant in March. 19 Mrs Peck handed her rights in the portrait to W. R. Farquhar who made a final attempt in June 1900 to obtain the portrait or the money, plus some recompense for the expenses incurred. 20 The 'stately cloak of Ermine' was cleaned and prepared for the 'little American Princess' by a Paris furrier and Whistler suggested further sittings. 21 Although he still hoped to complete it, and promised not to destroy it, Whistler finally returned her opera cloak and the money. 22 Mrs Farquhar's first child was born on 4 December 1900; the Farquhars finally accepted that the portrait would not be completed and withdrew the deposit of 10,521 francs on 27 June 1901. 23
1903: Whistler was still planning to complete the portrait up to three weeks before his death, but failed to do so: after his death the Farquhars tried unsuccessfully to obtain it from Whistler's estate. 24
24: Letter from the sitter's daughter, Mrs J. Zonyk-Bohusz, to M. F. MacDonald, 5 August [1976/1978], GUL WPP.
Last updated: 3rd January 2021 by Margaret