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

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Red and Pink: La Petite Mephisto


  • 1885: bought from Messrs Dowdeswell by Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) ;
  • 1902: bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) , Detroit;
  • 1919: bequeathed by C. L. Freer to the Freer Gallery of Art.

It was exhibited in Whistler's one-man show, 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 51), and bought by H. S. Theobald in the following year. 1

In June 1902, Whistler sent C. L. Freer a telegram 'Theobald paintings at Marchants') informing him that the paintings owned by Theobald were apparently for sale. 2 Responding quickly, in August 1902 Freer bought it for $1000.


  • 1884: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 51) as 'Red and pink: La Petite Mephisto'.
  • 1884: Annual Exhibition of Sketches, Pictures & Photography: A Loan Collection of Pictures by Mr Whistler ..., Dublin Sketching Club, Dublin, 1884 (cat. no. 238) 'Red and Pink. Petite Mephiste'.
  • 1887: Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1887 (cat. no. 164) as 'Note en rouge: La petite Méphisto'.
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 14) as 'Petite Mephiste'.
  • 1905: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 52) as 'Petite Méphisto ... Esquisse'.

The model was described by the Topical Times as 'a sulky diavoletta of a girl boudéing in a boudoir,' but Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) commended the painting's 'triumphant boldness and dash.' 3

Later in 1884 the painting joined a large group of works exhibited in Dublin. The Dublin Daily Express defended Whistler against criticism:

'On the small drawings - caprices, nocturnes, notes in pink and red - the critical wrath of the uneducated and inexperienced waxed hot, and such complimentary remarks as "rubbish", "daubs", "unfinished", "has to be looked at from a long way off", were as plentiful as blackberries, but as time passed on and the real skill and genius of the painter were pointed out ... . the ferocity abated and a more generous and rational estimate was taken. The fact is Mr. Whistler sees nature in his own way.' 4

Whistler wrote to Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929), 'you must arrange with the man who bought the lot that remained over after the exhibition of the "Flesh color & grey", to let his collection go with me to America.' 5 Neither Whistler's trip nor the exhibition happened.

Instead, in 1887, Whistler requested loans for a show in Paris:

'I am sending some pictures and drawings of mine to a very swell exhibition in Paris - and I am most anxious to borrow from you some 14 or 15 of the little things of mine you have on the staircase and in your dining room, that I may exhibit them at the same time.' 6

Theobald was a generous lender and 'Note en rouge: La petite Méphisto' was among works shown at the Galerie Georges Petit in 1887.

Whistler then suggested Theobald's 'Little Mephisto' should be borrowed for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 but it was not sent, possibly because Theobald felt he had been asked to lend works too often. 7

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent.


1: H. S. Theobald to Dowdeswell, receipt, 1 July 1885, GUW #00858; Dowdeswell's account, [July 1885/1886], GUW #00867; Whistler to W. Dowdeswell, [27 September 1885], GUW #08616.

2: 6 June 1902, GUW #11596.

3: Anon, ['Cigarette'], 'Whistles', The Topical Times, London, 24 May 1884. Wedmore 1884 [more] . Quoted in Myers 2003 [more] , p. 93. Press cuttings in GUL Whistler PC 6, pp. 35 and 53.

4: 'The Private View at the Dublin Sketching Club', Dublin Daily Express, Dublin, 1 December 1884, p. 5. Quoted in Anderson, Ronald, 'Whistler in Dublin, 1884', Irish Arts Review (1984-1987), Autumn, 1986, vol. 3, no. 3 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 45-51 , at p. 48.

5: Whistler to W. Dowdeswell, [27 September 1885], GUW #08616.

6: Whistler to H. S. Theobald, [26 April 1887], GUW #10891.

7: B. Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [22 October / November 1892], GUW #09703.

Last updated: 31st December 2020 by Margaret