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

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Rose et or: La Tulipe

Rose et or: La Tulipe may have been started in 1892 and was probably worked on until at least 1896. 1

1892/1893: The model, Whistler's sister-in-law Ethel Philip – later Ethel Whibley (1861-1920) – was free to pose at that time.

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

                Modèles de Mme Moslard, 96, rue Saint-Lazare, La mode pratique, no. 39, 3e année, 1894, Glasgow University Library
Modèles de Mme Moslard, 96, rue Saint-Lazare, La mode pratique, no. 39, 3e année, 1894, Glasgow University Library

1892/1894: The costume, with its wide puffed sleeves, narrow waist, and comparatively narrow 'tulip shaped' skirt with trailing hem, suggests a date of 1892/1894. Whistler (or his wife) owned the fashion plate reproduced above, dating from 1894, which could have inspired some features in the dress, particularly the shape of the sleeves, and soft pink colouring. 2

1894: Although it was included in the catalogue of the Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champ de Mars, Paris, 1894 (cat. no. 1184) as 'Rose et rouge; – la Tulipe', Whistler told Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921) that he did not send 'Tulipe Rose' to the exhibition because it was unfinished,

'... est venu un ultimatum du Champs [sic] de Mars - exigeant immédiatement toutes les toiles! - Il est donc parti - le Chevalier Noir! - avec les autres - hors la pauvre Tulipe Rose! - qui n'a pas fini sa toilette.' 3

(Translated:) '... an ultimatum came from the Champ de Mars - demanding all the paintings immediately! - Therefore the Black Cavalier has gone! - with the others - except the poor Pink Tulip - who has not finished her toilette.'

Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) of Wunderlich's, New York art dealers, mentioned portraits of Ethel Whibley (1861-1920) seen in Whistler's London studio, and suitable for exhibition, including 'the portrait in pink silk of Miss Phillips.' [sic] 4

When Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) was in Paris, around October 1894, he recorded Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian as one of three full-lengths Whistler was painting at 110 rue du Bac. 5

1896: In July 1896 E. G. Kennedy noted that there were three full-lengths in Whistler's Fitzroy Street studio, 'one in black, one in grey & black & one in pink', which Kennedy was to have when 'the hands' were completed. Shortly after the death of Whistler's wife, Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896), Kennedy was horrified to find Whistler repainting the 'full length in pink':

'One afternoon I went to the studio in Fitzroy St & saw ... Mrs Whibley [posing] for the full length in pink, but Whistler, instead of finishing the hand only, had repainted the picture from top to bottom & the beautiful tone had, of course, disappeared. In my astonishment I said - "Good Lord you've spoiled my picture". This was impulse, & of course the moment I said it, I saw of what a piece of foolishness & bad taste I was guilty & did not go into the Studio, but went away after lamely apologising, & afterward I wrote him a letter. He was certainly much more tolerant than I had reason to expect & he was as friendly as ever.' 6

Kennedy, writing years later, clearly thought that Whistler had spoilt the 'pink picture' but in Whistler's immediate response in 1896, he refers to it as 'the red picture':

'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 - Nothing on earth would persuade me to thrust upon you a picture which is already quite other than the one for which you bargained.

The grievous disappointment you felt when you saw it the other day I shall not forget - It was so great that you could not help calling out that it was a shame I had "spoiled" the beautiful work - I can only be sorry -

Your outcry was an awful shock to my already over wrought nerves - and I must get over it as best I can -

Never let us say any more about it - It would pain me too much -

Don't misunderstand me O K - that picture is now scratched off the list in our arrangements - "Spoiled" as it is, it would be unlike Whistler to insist upon your taking it - and were it by a miracle to turn out a masterpiece it would be immoral to let you have it.' 7

                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

Confusion arises because this altercation could possibly refer to Red and Black: The Fan [YMSM 388]. Both this and Rose et or: La Tulipe [YMSM 418] were never completely 'finished' but remained in Whistler's studio.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 418).

2: Modèles de Mme Moslard, 96, rue Saint-Lazare, La mode pratique, no. 39, 3e année, 1894, Glasgow University Library; this plate was part of the Whistler Collection donated by the sitter's sister, Rosalind Birnie Philip, to the University of Glasgow. Ribeiro. Aileen, 'Fashion and Whistler' in MacDonald 2003 [more] , pp. 16-51, at p. 40, fig. 40.

3: Whistler to Montesquiou, [15/24 April 1894], GUW #13616.

4: E. G. Kennedy to Whistler, 20 May 1894, GUW #07233.

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

6: 6 September 1903, note in the letter-book containing Whistler's letter of [28 June 1896], GUW #09761.

7: [28 June 1896], GUW #09761.

Last updated: 22nd October 2020 by Margaret