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

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Arrangement in Black, No. 8: Portrait of Mrs Cassatt

Arrangement in Black, No. 8: Portrait of Mrs Cassatt was painted from 1883 to 1885. 1

1883: on 3 April 1883 the sitter, Maria Lois Cassatt (1847-1920) and her husband, Alexander Johnston Cassatt (1839-1906) of Haverford, Pennsylvania, went to visit Whistler. as she noted in her diary, 'we found the distinguished artist most polite and most curious looking'; they asked if he would paint her, and arranged to start the following day. 2 She posed in Whistler's studio at 13 Tite Street: 'We spent every morning from 11-1 in the studio ... It was an ordeal for me as you can imagine standing so long, but the time passed pleasantly and quickly.' 3 And after lunch they continued until dark, as she noted in her diary. On 6 April she posed from 11 a.m. to 1.45 p.m. and again continued in the afternoon, on the following day, from 10.30-1.30, and on the 8th, she wrote, not surprisingly, 'I was tired'. It was too foggy to paint on the 9th but on the 10th April she posed from 11 a.m. to 5.15 p.m, and further long sittings took place on 14, 17, 21, and 23 April. 4

In May 1883 Whistler wrote that he had stayed on in London 'because I had to paint in the midst of things a full length portrait of an American who was determined to give me 500 guineas.' 5 According to the Pennells, Cassatt paid for the portrait before they left for America. 6 According to Sweet, they sailed on 28 April 1883, and Whistler, who was in Paris by 13 May, was reported as saying he was 'extremely well pleased' with the portrait. 7 Whistler nevertheless considered it incomplete, for he told Cassatt's sister, the artist Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926), that he had very few sittings, and would have liked just 25 more minutes. 8

Alexander's brother, J. Gardner Cassatt (1849-1911), saw the portrait in September, and commented 'It will give me great pleasure to give my brother your message, & also to assure him from myself what a fine & artistic portrait he will soon come into possession of.' 9 In October Mary Cassatt saw it, in company with John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), who said, 'It is a good thing to have a portrait by Whistler in the family.' 10

1884: Early in June 1884 the Paris dealer Durand-Ruel – probably Charles Durand-Ruel (1865-1892), Georges Durand-Ruel (1866-1931), or Joseph Durand-Ruel (1862-1928) – called on Whistler at the request of Mary Cassatt, and the artist promised to complete the portrait and send it to Alexander Cassatt immediately. 11 Jacques Émile Blanche (1861-1942) remembered that he saw it in Whistler's Tite Street studio in 1884. 12

1885: In January 1885, to Whistler's horror, A. J. Cassatt came to see the portrait and Whistler sponged it over and promised to complete it in three weeks. 13 The artist Sidney Starr (1857-1925) recorded that after Cassatt's visit, Whistler told him, 'I have been so long over it and the man has been so nice about it, that I feel ashamed of myself', so when he sent the portrait to Cassatt he added The Chelsea Girl [YMSM 314] as a present. 14 Mary Cassatt wrote on 21 September,

'I had a letter from Scott a ... young English painter ... He had been to see Whistler and saw Lois' portrait which he said was very fine but not done yet, that Whistler was dreadfully distressed, but could not find a model to finish the dress with.' 15

W. Sickert, 'An Arrangement in Black', Pall Mall Gazette, 8 December 1885
W. Sickert, 'An Arrangement in Black', Pall Mall Gazette, 8 December 1885

                Arrangement in Black, No. 8: Portrait of Mrs Cassatt, Private collection
Arrangement in Black, No. 8: Portrait of Mrs Cassatt, Private collection

It was exhibited in the Winter Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1885 (cat. no. 362).

1886: Whistler wrote to the art dealer Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929) regarding 'papers' sent to Cassatt's lawyer, possibly regarding the export of the painting. 16

1887: Possibly sent to Cassatt in the summer of 1887, when Whistler wrote somewhat cryptically to Messrs Dowdeswell:

'Mr Dowdeswell père, promised me to telegraph to Messrs Spence Liverpool, asking if case from Whistler for Cassatt America shall be forwarded to them -

Please do this and prepay their answer -

Cassatt's address is: A. J. Cassatt. Esq./ Chiswold - / Haverford Cottage P. Q. / Montgomery Co. P. A. / U. S. A.' 17


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 250).

2: Extracts from Diary of Lois Buchanan Cassatt, sent by Pauline T. Maguire, CASVA, Washington DC, to WPP. Sweet, Frederick A., Miss Mary Cassatt: Impressionist from Pennsylvania, Norman 1966, pp. 74-76, 82, 91-93, 107.

3: Lois B. Cassatt to E. R. Pennell, 10 June 1919, LC PC.

4: Extracts from Diary of Lois Buchanan Cassatt, op. cit.

5: Whistler to Waldo Story, [1 May 1883], GUW #08151.

6: Pennell, E. R. and J., The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 6th edition, revised, Philadelphia 1920, p. 257.

7: Sweet 1966, op. cit.

8: Mary to Lois Cassatt, 15 June 1883, quoted by Sweet 1966, op. cit.

9: J. G. Cassatt to Whistler, 15 September 1883, GUW #00546.

10: Mary Cassatt to A. J. Cassatt, 14 October 1883; quoted by Sweet 1966, op. cit.

11: Sweet 1966, op. cit.

12: Blanche 1905 [more] , p. 358.

13: A. J. Cassatt to his wife, quoted by Sweet 1966, op. cit.

14: Starr 1908 [more] , at p. 535.

15: 21 September [1885], quoted by Sweet 1966, op. cit.

16: [August 1886], GUW #08633.

17: [8/15 July 1887], GUW #08641.

Last updated: 28th May 2021 by Margaret