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

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Red and Black: The Fan

Various dates have been considered for Red and Black: The Fan. It has been suggested that it dates from between 1889 and 1894. 1

                Red and Black: The Fan, The Hunterian
Red and Black: The Fan, The Hunterian
Fashion plate, The Queen, 2 November 1889
Fashion plate, The Queen, 2 November 1889

1889: The costume suggests a date in the late 1880s: the tall bonnet, boa, and diagonal trim across the bust resemble fashions illustrated in The Queen in November 1889. 2

1891: Théodore Duret (1838-1927) saw portraits of Whistler's sister-in-law, probably Ethel Philip (later Ethel Whibley (1861-1920), in his London studio, and was disappointed not to see them in May 1891 at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He wrote: 'Je m'attendais à voir une où deux des nouvelles toiles que vous m'aviez montrées en train à Londres, un des portraits de votre belle soeur' [translated: 'I expected to see one or two of the new canvasses which you showed me in progress in London, one of the portraits of your sister-in-law.'] 3 A month later, on 14 June 1891 Whistler discussed a portrait of Ethel Philip with Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921). When mentioning this to his wife, Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896), the artist described it as 'Bunnie & the red Lady', 'Bunnie' being their nickname for Ethel. 4

1892: In January a visit by the Birnie Philip ladies to Paris was planned. 5 They spent a considerable time in Paris, returning to London in early May, but were back in Paris in late October. 6

1893: In December 1893, Ethel Philip was again in Paris acting as Whistler's amanuensis, and would have been available to pose, although it is not known if she did.

1894: By April 1894 the Whistlers were established at 110 rue du Bac, Paris.

When Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) was in Paris, around October 1894, he recorded Red and Black: The Fan as one of three full-lengths Whistler was painting at 110 rue du Bac (with Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian [YMSM 378] and Rose et or: La Tulipe [YMSM 418]). 7 On 20 November, Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920) referred to 'the magnificent portraits of Miss Phillip', 8 and on 27 November, Alfred Atmore Pope (1842-1913) asked, 'How about the Woman in Red? I want to feel that I have a mortgage on that.' 9

1895-1896: During the winter, the Birnie Philips were in London, tending Beatrice Whistler who was mortally ill.

1896: Edward Guthrie Kennedy remembered that 'Whistler had three full lengths of Mrs Whibley, one in black, one in grey & black & one in pink. I was to have the three when they were "complete" ', but, finding Whistler had repainted 'the full length in pink' he exclaimed 'Good Lord you've spoiled my picture.' 10 He then apologised and left the studio. Whistler responded, describing the picture as 'red' rather than 'pink':

'Now my dear OK about the red picture - Don't let that weigh on your mind any longer -

You have too loudly expressed your views for me to remain in any uncertainty about what I ought to do -

I therefore release you from all further entanglement in that unfortunate work ... were it by a miracle to turn out a masterpiece it would be immoral to let you have it.' 11

                Red and Black: The Fan, The Hunterian
Red and Black: The Fan, The Hunterian

                Rose et or: La Tulipe, The Hunterian
Rose et or: La Tulipe, The Hunterian

It is unclear whether this repainting applied to Red and Black: The Fan or Rose et or: La Tulipe [YMSM 418]. In September 1896 Kennedy was pressing for the completion of several portraits of Ethel, but presumably had given up on trying to obtain the 'spoiled' picture. 12

1897: In July Kennedy recorded paying £1000 on account for a 'Full length figure of woman to complete the agreement of last year', and in November he noted, 'Pictures (paintings) bought by E. G. Kennedy, from J. McN. Whistler, at different times & not yet received. / 4 full length portraits of a lady (Mrs. Whibley).' 13

In January 1897, Ethel Whibley wrote to E. G. Kennedy, 'As soon as the picture is finished you shall have it and he will write soon to you himself.' 14 Unfortunately it is not clear which portrait was nearing completion. In July Whistler told Ethel's sister Rosalind Birnie Philip that Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), whom he calls 'Mrs Jack' yearned for 'the Red Bunnie!' but 'I told her there were already other arrangements'. 15 Again, it is not clear which portrait was under discussion.

Neither Red and Black: The Fan nor Rose et or: La Tulipe [YMSM 418] were ever sold.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 388).

2: Fashion plate, The Queen, vol. 86, 2 November 1889, f.p. 604; MacDonald 2003 [more] , p. 196.

3: Duret to Whistler, 15 May 1891, GUW #00986; see also Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian [YMSM 378], or Harmony in Brown: The Felt Hat [YMSM 395]. See also MacDonald 1987 B [more] at pp. 154-55.

4: Whistler to B. Whistler, 14 June 1891, GUW #06593.

5: Whistler to Beatrice Whistler, [19 January 1892], GUW #06607.

6: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [1 April 1892], GUW #08339. Whistler to Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac [10 April 1892], GUW #03275. Whistler to Ethel Birnie Philip, London, [11 May 1893], GUW #06311.

7: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 2, p. 158.

8: A. J. Eddy to Whistler, 20 November 1894, GUW #01018.

9: A. A. Pope to Whistler, 27 November 1894, GUW #05000.

10: Note dated 1903, GUW #09761.

11: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [28 June 1896], GUW #09671.

12: Whistler to R. B. Philip, [16 September 1896], GUW #04673.

13: Memo, Kennedy to Whistler, 3 July 1897, GUW #07285; E. G. Kennedy to Whistler, 6 November 1897, GUW #07291.

14: [1 January 1897, GUW #09765.

15: [26 July 1897], GUW #04712.

Last updated: 2nd June 2021 by Margaret