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

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Sketch for a Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Dame in Schwarz' (1969, Nationalgalerie, Berlin). 1
  • 'Sketch for a Portrait of Mrs. Charles Whibley' (1973, Colnaghi). 2
  • 'Sketch for a Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip' (1980, YMSM). 3

In this case, an accurate title should really depend on the date of the picture. If this was painted before 1895, when Ethel Philip married Charles Whibley, then 'Sketch for a Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip', as used in the 1980 catalogue raisonné, is correct. If it was painted later, between 1896 and 1903, then 'Sketch for a Portrait of Mrs. Charles Whibley' would be correct. However, to avoid confusion, 'Sketch for a Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip' remains the generally accepted title.

Description


                    Sketch for a Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip, The Hunterian
Sketch for a Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip, The Hunterian

A small full-length portrait of a woman in vertical format. The woman stands in profile to right, her head turned to look at the viewer. She wears a black dress, the skirt gathered into a modest bustle at the back. Either the front of the dress is trimmed with black or she is wearing a long scarf in a light material, lace or chiffon. She wears a tall black bonnet trimmed with black chiffon and dark red flowers, and has white gloves on her hands. She appears to be holding something, possibly a parasol, but if so the lower part is missing. The background is greenish grey, the floor brown.

Sitter

Ethel Whibley, 1896, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/50
Ethel Whibley, 1896, photograph, GUL Whistler PH1/50

This is a study of Whistler's sister-in-law Ethel Philip, later Ethel Whibley (1861-1920) . In 1895 she married the journalist and critic, Charles Whibley.

Ethel Philip probably started posing for Whistler shortly after his marriage to her sister Beatrice in 1888: one painting, Red and Black: The Fan [YMSM 388], may have been started in 1889. Two lithographs – The Winged Hat c034 and Gants de suède c035 – date from 1890. She was certainly posing in 1891 in London and in 1894 in Paris (she posed with Whistler's wife in The Sisters c109), before her marriage in 1895.

Ethel, by then Ethel Whibley, was posing again in 1896 and probably 1897. She also posed at some time in later years, and in 1900 Whistler exhibited a recently completed portrait of her, Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian [YMSM 378].

Notes:

1: Spencer, Robin, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1969 (cat. no. 41).

2: Glasgow University's Pictures, London, Colnaghi, 1973 (cat. no. 100).

3: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 386).

Last updated: 25th November 2020 by Margaret