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

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Portrait Study of Lily Pettigrew

Titles

Whistler's original title is not known. The suggested title is:

  • 'Portrait Study of Lily Pettigrew' (1936, University of Glasgow). 1
  • 'Portrait Study of Lily Pettigrew' (1980, YMSM). 2

Description


                    Portrait Study of Lily Pettigrew, The Hunterian
Portrait Study of Lily Pettigrew, The Hunterian

A half-length portrait of a young woman in vertical format. She has brown eyes and short brown curly hair, and is facing the viewer. Her arms are crossed with her left hand grasping her right upper arm. She wears a simple high-necked black or dark grey dress, possibly with a shawl. The background is also very dark.

Sitter

Lilian Pettigrew (b. 1870) .

E. L. Sambourne, Hetty and Lily Pettigrew, photograph, Leighton House
E. L. Sambourne, Hetty and Lily Pettigrew, photograph, Leighton House

There were three Pettigrew sisters, Bessie ('Hetty'), the oldest, Rose the youngest, and Lily. Their mother brought them to London when Lily was about 14. They posed first for Millais' An Idyll of 1745 in 1884 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight). John Everett Millais (1829-1896) described them as 'three little gypsies ... with the characteristic carelessness of their race, they just came when they liked.' 3

E. L. Sambourne, Hetty and Lily Pettigrew, photograph, Leighton House
E. L. Sambourne, Hetty and Lily Pettigrew, photograph, Leighton House

The sisters posed many times, both nude and clothed (see the photographs above), for Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910). All three were very popular as models, posing to Edward John Poynter (1836-1919), Rudolph Onslow Ford (1875-1914), Frederick Leighton (1830-1896), William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1836-1904), John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942) and Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942). She also posed to Whistler as Eve [YMSM 491].

In her memoirs Rose described her sister Lily as having 'most beautiful curly red hair, violet eyes, a beautiful mouth, classic nose, and beautifully shaped face, long neck, well set, and a most exquisite figure; in fact, she was perfection!' 4


                    Portrait Study of Lily Pettigrew, The Hunterian
Portrait Study of Lily Pettigrew, The Hunterian

Whistler's portrait accentuates these features, her neck and her arms seem to be in the process of being rubbed out and made even thinner; she has big brown eyes and bushy hair; her mouth and her hand are very strange in shape, and brushed in boldly. The portrait is in fact unusually mannered in pose and detail.

Notes:

1: James McNeill Whistler, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 1936 (cat. no. 33).

2: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 434).

3: Millais, John Guile, The Life and Letters of John Everett Millais, London, 1899, vol. 1, p. 165, painting by Millais repr. f.p. 436.

4: Mss in GUL MacColl P/64; 'Autobiographical essay by Rose Pettigrew', in Laughton 1971 [more] , pp. 113-14.

Last updated: 8th April 2021 by Margaret