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

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Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate


Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Senor Pablo De Sarasate' (1885, Society of British Artists). 1
  • 'Pablo de Sarasate' (1886, Les XX, Brussels). 2
  • 'Arrangement en noir No. 9. Portrait de Pablo de Sarasate' (1886, Whistler). 3
  • 'Portrait' (1886, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Paris). 4
  • 'Arrangement in Black No. 9 / Portrait of Senor Don Pablo de Sarasate' ([1890/1895], Whistler). 5
  • 'Sarasate' (1893, Society of Portrait Painters). 6
  • 'Bildniss des Künstlers Pablo Sarasate' (1894, Kunsthalle Hamburg). 7
  • 'Sarasate' (1896, Carnegie Institute). 8
  • 'Portrait of Pablo Sarasate' (1898, Art Institute of Chicago). 9
  • 'Portrait of Pablo Sarasate' and 'Arrangement in Black, Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate' (1905, ISSPG). 10
  • 'Arrangement en noir. Portrait de Pablo Sarasate. – (Arrangement in Black. Portrait of Pablo Sarasate.)' (1905, Exposition des œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Paris). 11
  • 'Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate' (1980, YMSM). 12

Whistler complained that the title in Les XX's catalogue was incorrect and Octave Maus (1856-1919) promised to correct it in the next edition. 13

The portrait being numbered 'No 9' in the series of 'Arrangements in Black', as Petri suggests, 'signalled the continuity of the artist's work'. 14 However, it was never actually exhibited or published with this title.

'Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate' is the preferred title.


                    Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate, Carnegie
Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate, Carnegie Institute

A full length portrait of a violinist, in vertical format. He wears evening dress and stands, holding the violin and bow, in front of a dark curtain, apparently lit by a spotlight, on stage.


C. Reutlinger, Pablo de Sarasate, silver gelatin print, 1884, GUL Whistler PH1/41
C. Reutlinger, Pablo de Sarasate, silver gelatin print, 1884, GUL Whistler PH1/41

The violinist, Pablo de Sarasate y Navascues (1844-1908). The photograph above is inscribed 'Au cher Maître Whistler, son ami et modèle Pablo de Sarasate, London, 84.'

Christian Krogh recorded Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) as saying in 1897: 'The portrait is better than Sarasate. Sarasate was immensely flattered by the furore his portrait produced. He stayed the whole time in the room where it hung. But he looked shockingly ordinary by the side of it.' 15

Some years after posing for the portrait, Sarasate wrote to Whistler, 'vous m'avez immortalisé, et comme cela, on saura dans les siècles futurs, qu'il a éxisté un frotteur de boyaux qui ne ménageait pas sa colophane!' (Translation: 'you have immortalised me, and so, it will be known hundreds of years from now, in future centuries that there once existed a fiddler who did not take care of his resin!'). 16

Théodore Duret (1838-1927) told the Pennells 'that Sarasate cared neither for painting nor for his portrait ... It was Goldschmidt, his manager, the owner of a Nocturne who cared.' 17 Otto Goldschmidt (1829-1907) was an enthusiastic collector of Whistler's works (see Nocturne [YMSM 153], Grey and Silver: Mist - Life Boat [YMSM 287], Grey and Green: A River [YMSM 295]).

The fame of both Sarasate and Whistler's portrait was such that when, on 15 October 1889, the Glasgow Society of Musicians held a supper in honour of Sarasate, the menu for the five course meal was decorated with an anonymous sketch of Sarasate labelled 'AFTER WHISTLER'! 18


The Carnegie Institute website comments:

'The distinctiveness of Whistler's portrait of Sarasate relies on two conceits: the placement of the figure and the attention-getting placement of the sole prop, the violin. Held full face against the picture plane, the violin creates a spidery, two-dimensional extension of Sarasate's own thin form. The figure, high on the picture plane against black, nearly shadowless surroundings, generates considerable spatial ambiguity. Sarasate's body appears to be floating before the viewer. The reeded, gilt frame, intermittently painted in a fish-scale pattern and signed with a butterfly, is Whistler's design.' 19


1: The sixty-second Annual Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1885 (cat. no. 350).

2: Les XX, la troisieme exposition annuelle, Société des XX, Brussels, 1886 (no catalogue number).

3: Whistler wanted this title used in the Salon catalogue, letter to T. Child, [24 March 1886], GUW #09268.

4: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 104th exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1886 (cat. no. 2450).

5: Reproduction inscribed to John White Alexander (1856-1915), Brooklyn Museum 31.213, website at

6: 3rd exhibition, Society of Portrait Painters, London, 1893 (cat. no. 52).

7: Große Kunst-Ausstellung des Kunst-Vereins in der Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg, 1894 (cat. no. 646).

8: 1st Annual Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1896 (cat. no. 303).

9: Loan Exhibition of Selected Works of Old and Modern Masters being the Annual Exhibition of the Antiquarians of the Art Institute, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1898 (cat. no. 60).

10: Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition, London 1905 [more] (cat. no. 19) in ordinary and deluxe edition respectively.

11: Exhibition catalogue Paris 1905 (Memorial expo)[more] (cat. no. 20).

12: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 315).

13: Maus to Whistler, 11 February 1886, GUW #05486.

14: Petri 2011 [more] , p. 175.

15: Krogh, Christian, 'Fritz Thaulow and Oscar Wilde at Dieppe', The New Age, 10 December 1908, p. 133.

16: 18 May 1893, GUW #05377.

17: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 2, p. 3.

18: GUW #01681.

19: Carnegie Institute website at

Last updated: 18th December 2020 by Margaret