Several variations on the title have been suggested:
The preferred title is 'Arrangement in Black, No. 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain'.
The 'Arrangements in Black' are numbered, not entirely consistently, as follows:
A full length portrait, in vertical format, of a man in black and white theatrical costume. He stands facing the viewer, with his legs well apart, in black and white striped breeks above white tights. He wears a short black cloak trimmed with white, and his right hand emerges to clasp a gold chain across his breast. He wears a black doublet trimmed with gold. His tall black hat bears a white feather plume. He casts a shadow back and to right across a dark grey floor that merges into a black background.
Henry Irving (1838-1905) (John Henry Brodribb) was director and manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London for many years. Henry Irving was his stage name. After a highly successful career he was knighted in 1895. He appeared as Philip II in Tennyson's unsuccessful historical drama Queen Mary, staged at the Lyceum Theatre, London, from 18 April to 13 May 1876.
According to Ellen Terry (1847-1928), 'the sitter never cared much about the portrait. Henry had a strange affection for the wrong pictures of himself ... Whistler's Philip probably seemed to him not nearly showy enough.' 7
Irving himself apologised for infringing Whistler's copyright when he reproduced an early photograph of the painting in The Drama: Addresses by Sir Henry Irving, London, 1893. 8
In 1879 the art critic Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) called the portrait 'a murky caricature of Velasquez - an effort in which the sketchiness of the master remained, but the decisiveness of the master was wanting'. 9
Julius Meier-Graefe (1867-1935) made a comparison between the portrait of Irving and Portrait de Faure dans le rôle de Hamlet by Edouard Manet (1832-1883) (Museum Folkwang, Essen), which was exhibited at the Salon in 1877 (cat. no. 1415), although it is not known if either of the painters could have seen the other's painting in 1876 or 1877. 10 In pose and composition Whistler's Arrangement in Black, No. 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain is closer to an earlier portrait by Manet of Philibert Rouvière, L'Acteur tragique (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) of 1865, which Whistler could have seen in Paris in 1867.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art website comments:
'Whistler's portrait of the great Victorian actor Henry Irving (1838–1895) recalls Diego Velázquez's court portraits in its format, pose, and restricted palette of black, white, silvery grays, and golden ochers. Whistler had been impressed by Irving's 1876 appearance in the role of the grandfather of Philip IV, Velázquez's patron, in Alfred Lord Tennyson's verse play Queen Mary Tudor. Discussing Whistler's canvas in 1907, the actress Ellen Terry suggested the associations with Velázquez that the actor and the artist might have had in mind in emulating the Spanish master's style. She observed that Irving, "in his dress without much colour (from the common point of view), his long grey legs, and his Velasquez-like attitudes, looked like the kind of thing which Whistler loved to paint. Velasquez had painted a real Philip of the same race; Whistler would paint the actor who created the Philip of the stage." ' 11
It has also been suggested that the source of Irving's own portrayal of Philip could have been portraits of the king by Titian (Tiziano Vecello) (1485-1576) in the Museo Nacional del Prado and Museo e gallerie nazionali di Capodimonte, and the anonymous portrait, Philip II, King of Spain, in the National Portrait Gallery, London. 12
A portrait head formerly attributed to Whistler, and known as 'Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain', oil on canvas, 48.6 x 36 cm (19 1/8 x 14 3/8"), Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of George S. Hellman, 1955 (55.49), was certainly not painted by Whistler, and may have been the work of Leon Dabo (1868-1960).
1: Photograph, G. A. Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art.
2: Photograph, S. P. Avery collection, New York Public Library.
3: I Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1877 (cat. no. 7 in West Gallery).
4: Dramatic and Musical Art, Grafton Galleries, London, 1897 (cat. no. 137).
5: 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. no. 27).
7: Terry, Ellen, 'Recollections of Henry Irving', McLure’s Magazine, vol. 30, December 1907, pp. 131-48, at pp. 135-36. A photograph of the sitter at this time is reproduced in Theatre, 1878, repr. p. 44.
10: Meier-Graefe, Julius, Modern Art, trans. F. Simmonds & G. W. Chrystal, 2 vols., London & New York, 1908, pp. 222-23.
Last updated: 7th June 2021 by Margaret