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

Home  > Catalogue > Exhibitions > Paris_1884 (related works) > Search Display

Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, "Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2" ' (1874, Flemish Gallery). 1
  • 'Arrangement in Green and Gold' (1878, Whistler). 2
  • 'Portrait de Carlyle' (1884, Société des artistes français, Paris). 3
  • 'Thomas Carlyle' (1884 et seq., Royal Scottish Academy). 4
  • 'Arrangement in Grey and Black. Thomas Carlyle' (1892, Goupil). 5
  • 'Portrait: Thomas Carlyle' (1896, Aberdeen Artists' Society). 6
  • 'Portrait of Carlyle' (1898, Sandeman Public Library, Perth). 7
  • 'Portrait of Thomas Carlyle' (1900, Corporation of London Art Gallery). 8
  • 'The late Thomas Carlyle' (1900, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). 9
  • 'Portrait of Thomas Carlyle' and 'Arrangement in Grey and Black, Thomas Carlyle' (1905, ISSPG). 10
  • 'Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle' (1980, YMSM). 11

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.

Description


                    Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, Glasgow Museums
Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, Glasgow Museums

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.


                    Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, Freer Gallery of Art
Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, Freer Gallery of Art

A pen drawing, Portrait of Thomas Carlyle [M.0840], reproduced above, was done after the completed composition.

Site

Whistler's studio at 2 Lindsey Row, Chelsea, a second-storey back room with grey walls and black dado.

Sitter

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.

J. M. Cameron, Thomas Carlyle, 1867, albumen print, National Galleries of Scotland, PGP 373.1
J. M. Cameron, Thomas Carlyle, 1867, albumen print, National Galleries of Scotland, PGP 373.1

                    Study for the Head of Carlyle, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Study for the Head of Carlyle, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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

Comments

The German art critic Richard Muther (1860-1909) remarked that 'In der ganzen Linie liegt etwas Müdes' ('In the whole line there is something tired.'). 14

Max Beerbohm, Blue China, Rossetti and His Circle, 1922
Max Beerbohm, Blue China, Rossetti and His Circle, 1922
Filson Young, Max Beerbohm, 1916, photograph, National Portrait Gallery, NPG P864
Filson Young, Max Beerbohm, 1916, photograph, National Portrait Gallery, NPG P864

Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) not only drew one of the most acute caricatures of Whistler and Carlyle, Blue China, in 1922, but posed as Carlyle for a photograph by Filson Young in 1916. 15

Notes:

1: Mr Whistler's Exhibition, Flemish Gallery, 48 Pall Mall, London, 1874 (cat. no. 6).

2: Whistler's witness statement at the Ruskin trial, reported in Weekly Dispatch, 1 December 1878 [more] , and Globe, 25 November 1875 [more] (press cuttingss in GUL Whistler PC 2, pp. 22, 28).

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.

11: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 137).

12: Whistler to Elisabeth Lewis (1844-1931), [13 February 1891], GUW #02527.

13: Whistler to A. Reid, [26 June 1892], GUW #03206.

14: Muther 1894 [more] , at pp. 530-31.

15: Filson Young, Sir Max Beerbohm, bromide print, 1916, National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG P864.

Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret