Several possible titles have been suggested:
Whistler exhibited the portrait as 'Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, "Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2" ' at his first one-man exhibition in 1874. At the 1892 retrospective at Goupil's, when he reconsidered the titles of his paintings, he showed it as 'Arrangement in Grey and Black. Thomas Carlyle'. The title chosen in the 1980 catalogue raisonné and retained here reflects both the standard sequence of the artistic and descriptive titles for Whistler's works adopted in 1892 and the 'No. 2' to distinguish the painting from Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101], which has a similar colour scheme.
Confusingly, Whistler wrote 'Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2' (the title used for the portrait of Carlyle in 1874) under a photograph of Portrait of Miss Florence Leyland [YMSM 107].
'Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle' is the preferred title.
A portrait in vertical format, showing an elderly man sitting in profile to left, with his right hand gloved, holding a walking stick. He has grey hair and a grey beard. He wears a heavy black greatcoat and balances a black felt hat on his knee. There are framed pictures on the grey wall behind him, above the black dado.
A pen drawing, Portrait of Thomas Carlyle [M.0840], reproduced above, was done after the completed composition.
Whistler's studio at 2 Lindsey Row, Chelsea, a second-storey back room with grey walls and black dado.
The portrait shows Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), the Scottish historian and philosopher. He was a firm believer in the importance of portraiture and supporter of plans for a Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Carlyle posed for many drawings, photographs, paintings and sculpture by artists throughout the UK. A dramatic photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), reproduced above, shows him in profile, facing right (in Whistler's oil sketch and in the finished work he faces left).
Two works are comparable to the pose and impression of Carlyle given in Whistler's oil: the statue by Whistler's friend, the sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890) (bronze, 1881, Chelsea Embankment), and the oil by Alphonse Legros (1837-1911), who painted him in three-quarter view (National Galleries of Scotland). A portrait by John Everett Millais (1829-1896) shows him facing front, staring fixedly at the artist, seated and leaning on a stick. Both these oils date from 1877 and are in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (NPG 940 and 968 respectively) which also owns a marble version of Boehm's sculpture (NPG 658).
In 1891 Whistler wrote, 'He is a favourite of mine. I like the gentle sadness about him! - perhaps he was even sensitive - and even misunderstood - who knows!' 12 A year later he complained when a critic compared the portrait of Carlyle with La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine [YMSM 050]:
'It is rather a bore in a way that those Glasgow papers should be so over wise and minute in all their knowledge - What they send me is, in spite of all ones experience in abuse, much more tiresome in its dilettante connoisseurship of appreciation -
Such nonsense about joyousness and period - The picture takes its place simply with all the others and differs in no way from the portrait of Carlyle, excepting in as much as Carlyle himself dear old Gentleman differs from a Young lady in a Japanese dressing gown, in which it was not likely the Chelsea Sage should ever be seen!' 13
1: Mr Whistler's Exhibition, Flemish Gallery, 48 Pall Mall, London, 1874 (cat. no. 6).
3: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 102nd exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1884 (cat. no. 2455).
4: Scottish National Portraits. Loan Exhibition, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 1884 (cat. no. 439); also in Annual Exhibition of Sketches, Pictures & Photography: A Loan Collection of Pictures by Mr Whistler ..., Dublin Sketching Club, Dublin, 1884 (cat. no 242); International Exhibition, Kelvingrove, Glasgow, 1888 (cat. no. 614), and many other exhibitions.
5: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 42).
6: Eighth Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists and Old Masters, Aberdeen Artists' Society, Aberdeen, 1896, Aberdeen, 1896 (cat. no. 41).
7: Exhibition of Loan Pictures shown in the Sandeman Gallery on the occasion of the opening of the Sandeman Public Library by Lord Roseberry, Perth, 1898 (cat. no. 128).
8: Loan Collection of Pictures by Living British Painters, Corporation of London Art Gallery, London, 1900 (cat. no. 72).
9: 30th Autumn Exhibition of Pictures, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1900 (cat. no. 1119).
10: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. 5) in ordinary and deluxe edition respectively.
15: Filson Young, Sir Max Beerbohm, bromide print, 1916, National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG P864.
Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret