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

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Arrangement in Yellow and Grey: Effie Deans

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Arrangement in Grey & Yellow' (1881, Whistler). 1
  • 'Effie Deans' (1886, International Exhibition, Edinburgh). 2
  • 'Effie Deans' (1889, Tentoonstelling van Kunstwerken van Levende Meesters, Amsterdam). 3
  • 'Arrangement in Yellow and Grey: Effie Deans' (1980, YMSM) 4

'Arrangement in Yellow and Grey: Effie Deans' is the preferred title. It is one of only three paintings given literary titles by Whistler (with Annabel Lee [YMSM 079], and Ariel [YMSM 318]).

The quotation is taken from Walter Scott's Heart of Midlothian (1818) a novel set in Edinburgh around 1737. The words relate to an episode in the early part of the novel. Effie is in the Tolbooth Prison in Edinburgh, accused – falsely – of the murder of her illegitimate child. A mob breaks in to take another prisoner, Porteous, to the gallows. In the confusion a 'person in female attire' – later discovered to be Effie's lover – urged her to 'flee, or they'll take your life'. The young woman 'gazed after him for a moment, and then, faintly muttering, "Better tyne life, since tint is gude fame," she sunk her head upon her hand, and remained, seemingly unconscious as a statue, of the noise and tumult which passed around her.'

Effie's child survived and became a criminal with the nickname of the 'Whistler', which may have also appealed to the artist, and influenced his choice of subject and title.

Description


                    Arrangement in Yellow and Grey: Effie Deans, Rijksmuseum
Arrangement in Yellow and Grey: Effie Deans, Rijksmuseum

A full length painting of a woman in vertical format. She is in profile to right. She wears a shawl over her head and shoulders. Her right hand draws the shawl back from her face. She wears a long grey skirt, and poses against a dark brown background.

The painting is different from Whistler's other portraits of Maud Franklin, which emphasize her fashionable elegance. The costume, although vague – a shawled figure in a full skirted dress – is consistent with the period of Scott's novel. There is no sign of the 'tumult' around her, but focussing on an isolated figure in semi-darkness is a reasonable interpretation of the scene described in the novel.

Sitter

Maud Franklin (1857-ca 1941) . It is very likely that she was pregnant at the time of this painting, and posed in a dress and shawl that concealed her pregnancy. Her daughter Maud McNeill Whistler Franklin (b. 1879) was born in February 1879. 5

Notes:

1: Inscription on photograph, Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art.

2: International Exhibition, Edinburgh, 1886 (cat. no. 1412).

3: Tentoonstelling van Kunstwerken van Levende Meesters, Amsterdam, 1889 (cat. no. 470).

4: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 183).

5: MacDonald 1987 A [more] .

Last updated: 10th November 2020 by Margaret