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

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Arrangement in Black: Girl Reading


  • 1891: bought from the artist on 8 June, by the Boston stockbroker John Chandler Bancroft (1835-1901) , with one watercolour, for £129.16.6;
  • 1901: bequeathed to Bancroft's widow, Harriet Burfort James Bancroft (Mrs J. C. Bancroft) (1846-1906) , who died in London, UK, in 1906.
  • Before 1937: owned by Francis Patrick Garvan (1875-1937) , New York;
  • 1937: Estate of F. P. Garvan;
  • 1944: acquired from the Estate of F. P. Garvan by the Macbeth Galleries, New York;
  • 1944: sold by Macbeth to the Babcock Galleries, New York;
  • 1944: bought by Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876-1967) , New York, but deposited with the Babcock Galleries until 1946;
  • 1967: bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Bancroft had met Whistler many years earlier, around 1861. When he and his family came to London in 1891 he re-introduced himself:

'I want to recall myself to your memory after thirty years & if you are in London to have shortly the satisfaction of knowing more of your latterday work - The little I have seen makes me wish to see more: & if there is not a disproportion between one of your masterpieces & my means, which unfortunately have a truly republican instability, I hope to carry one back them with me.' 1

They visited the Whistlers in June, apparently found the prices a little high, but then reconsidered. Bancroft wrote to Whistler next day, 8 June 1891:

'Night brings good counsel sometimes & waking early this morning, I made up my mind that I could risk discounting the future a little & that I would write you, as I am now doing in consequence, that I should be pleased to take now or at any time, the little water-color & I think also the figure (black on black) though my wife does not feel as sure of that as I do.' 2

They also tempted Whistler by asking if he would paint their daughter. Whistler agreed (though that did not come to pass) and added: 'The water colour, & the little Reading Girl - (Arrangement in Black) if Mrs Bancroft wishes, I can send round to you.' 3 The sale made, the picture was framed by F. H. Grau. Bancroft sent a cheque with a note to Whistler's assistant William Bell (fl. 1886-1892):

'Your note of June 26 is just received & with many thanks for your attention to the framing & packing[.] I enclose a check on the So. Kensington branch of the London & Westminster Bank Limited for the amount due in total: £129. 16. 6 -

I note that the case has been delivered to Messrs Brown Shipley & co - Have the kindness to send me a line to explain whether it remains with them subject to my order or whether they will forward it without further notice.' 4

Bancroft's widow, Harriet Burfort James Bancroft, died in London in 1906. There are some gaps in the known provenance thereafter. It is possible that the painting passed to the Bancroft's son, Wilder Dwight Bancroft (1867-1953), a professor in Ithaca, NY, or daughter Hester (a small label on the back reads 'Hester B.'). Another label reads '37433' and some other notes on the back read '5624' and '4/10/42G'.

The US censuses record that the Irish born lawyer and collector Francis Patrick Garvan (1875-1937) with his large family, including a son Francis Patrick J. Garvan Jr (1912-1972), was living in Washington, DC, in 1920 and in Nassau County, NY, in 1930, but again, it is not known where and when he bought this painting. A photograph of the painting, taken at the Freer Gallery of Art in the 1930s, is labelled 'Study of a woman in black. Purchased by Francis Garvan & will go eventually to Yale University.' 5 But although it was lent by Adelaide Milton de Groot to Yale University Art Gallery in 1946, it did not enter the University collection, but was later bequeathed by Miss de Groot to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 6


  • 1887: 64th Annual Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1887 (cat. no. 25), 'Note in Black' or (cat. no. 155) 'Note in black: Reading'.
  • 1892: Exhibition of Oil Paintings, St Botolph Club, Boston, 1891-1892 (cat. 35), no title given.
  • 1897: Possibly Nineteenth Exhibition, Society of American Artists, New York, 1897 (cat. no. 107) as ‘Girl Reading’.
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 17) as 'Girl in Black'.

                    Arrangement in Black: Girl Reading, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Arrangement in Black: Girl Reading, Metropolitan Museum of Art

                    Arrangement in Black: Reading, Private collection
Arrangement in Black: Reading, Private collection

Two pictures exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists had similar titles, a 'Note in Black' and 'Note in black: Reading', the latter priced at £105. 7 One may well have been this painting and the other, Arrangement in Black: Reading [YMSM 224]. The Sunday Times described them as 'Two clever studies of girls in reading attitudes, in black dresses against black backgrounds.' 8

After it was purchased by J. C. Bancroft in 1891, it was exhibited at the St Botolph Club in Boston, as Bancroft reported to Whistler in February 1892:

'Your "Arrangement in Black" & the ... water-color have been shown to the good people of Boston at the St Botolph Club, and my wife's letters say that the said good people opened their eyes very wide in consequence; and of my personal knowledge there are at least half a dozen in Boston perhaps a dozen who know a good thing when they see it.' 9

After Whistler's death it was lent by Mrs Bancroft to the Whistler Memorial exhibition in Boston 1904 (cat. no. 17) as 'Girl in Black'.

Years later, in 1946, it was lent by the then owner, Miss de Groot, to Yale University Art Gallery, and later, in 1952, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, to which she bequeathed the painting.


1: 18 March 1891, GUW #00240.

2: GUW #00241.

3: [9 June 1891], GUW #00492.

4: 27 June 1891, #00242.

5: GUL WPP files. See also Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America website at

6: Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America website at

7: 64th Annual Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1887 (cat. nos 25, 155).

8: Sunday Times, London, 15 April 1887.

9: Bancroft to Whistler, 1 February 1892, GUW #00247.

Last updated: 25th November 2020 by Margaret