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

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Harmony in Black: Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip

Harmony in Black: Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip may have been started in 1894, and possibly continued at intervals for several years.

1894: On 20 May 1894 Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) of Wunderlich's, New York dealers, wrote to suggest that Whistler should exhibit one of his portraits of Miss Philip, such as 'one in black', with them. 1

1896: In June 1896, according to Kennedy, there were three full-lengths of Mrs Whibley (née Philip) in the Fitzroy Street studio, Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian [YMSM 378], Rose et or: La Tulipe [YMSM 418], and 'one in black', all of which he was to buy when Whistler had completed the hands, as he noted, '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". There was something to do to the hands of each.' 2

On 4 September 1896 Wunderlich & Co. recorded the agreement between Kennedy and Whistler regarding The Little Rose of Lyme Regis [YMSM 449] The Master Smith of Lyme Regis [YMSM 450] and 'the portrait of Mrs. Whibley either the black one' or Rose et or: La Tulipe [YMSM 418]:

'The agreement is that he bought of you in the first place, the Smith, the little Rose and the portrait of Mrs. [Whibley], either the black one or the pink one, for £1500/-/-. Upon you saying: "You will give £2000/-/- for the four, I suppose," Mr. Kennedy said: "Yes, I will, but you will agree to finish the hands of the pink one, and complete the one in black and mauve to your satisfaction".' 3

1897: However a year later, on 6 November 1897, Kennedy noted that he had bought but not received four portraits of Mrs Whibley. 4

                Harmony in Black: Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip, The Hunterian
Harmony in Black: Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip, The Hunterian

1901: Whistler wrote to Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) on 3 November 1901, that he had discovered a portrait of 'Bunnie' (Mrs Whibley), which might have been Harmony in Brown: The Felt Hat [YMSM 395] or Harmony in Black: Portrait of Miss Ethel Philip [YMSM 419], which he thought worth completing; and through Rosalind, he sent a message to Ethel: 'I have found a very pretty picture of you! you must come & see if something may not be done!' 5

1903: The portrait was in Whistler's studio at his death.


1: GUW #07233.

2: Note dated 6 September 1903, with Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [28 June 1896], GUW #09761.

3: GUW #07280.

4: GUW #07291.

5: GUW #04821.

Last updated: 22nd October 2020 by Margaret