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

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Harmony in White and Ivory: Portrait of Lady Colin Campbell

Harmony in White and Ivory: Portrait of Lady Colin Campbell dates from 1886. 1

Gertrude Elizabeth Campbell (Lady Colin Campbell) (1857-1911) posed to Whistler in the late summer and autumn of 1886. 2 'To be understood by you is my delight! - to do beautiful things with you is my ambition - I have a plan!' the artist wrote to his prospective sitter. 3 On 22 August he was in France and suggested another sitting after his return:

I shall be back by the end of the week - and ready to go on with our great work at once -

What do you say of Monday - 30th. at three? -

I hope the country has done you no harm -

It could not make you more beautiful.' 4

Lady Colin settled for the previous day, 29 August. 5 There is a suggestion that her dress was only ready in September, when Whistler commented, 'Je vois ca [sic] d'içi - the lovely frock!' 6 The dress that was shown in the final portrait was designed by Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895).

The sitter had married Colin Campbell (1853-1895), fifth son of the eighth Duke of Argyll, in 1881. She obtained a judicial separation in 1884 on grounds of cruelty. In 1886 she petitioned for divorce, citing the housemaid, and her husband counter petitioned naming three co-respondents. Whistler was trying to complete Lady Colin's portrait before her divorce went to court. It has been suggested that the white dress may have had a specific meaning: 'the color chosen, perhaps, to signify virtue in the face of threats to her reputation.' 7

The portrait was first exhibited in the Winter Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1886 (cat. no. 259) and described in the catalogue as 'unfinished'. The artist's sister-in-law Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) told the sitter that it was subsequently destroyed. 8

Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 354).

2: Whistler to G. E. Campbell, [July/September 1886], formerly dated [June/September 1886], GUW #03645; [8, 10 and 14 September 1886], GUW #03326, #03327 and #03328; [19 October 1886], GUW #03332.

3: [July/August 1886], formerly dated [May/June 1886], GUW #03322.

4: [22 August 1886], GUW #03330.

5: Whistler to G. E. Campbell, [28 August 1886], GUW #03331.

6: Whistler to G. E. Campbell, [5 September 1886], GUW #03325.

7: Galassi, Susan Grace, 'Lady Henry Bruce Meux and Lady Archibald Campbell', in MacDonald 2003 [more] , pp. 156-83, at p. 183.

8: Pennell 1921C [more] , p. 166.

Last updated: 23rd May 2021 by Margaret