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

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The Little London Sparrow

The Little London Sparrow probably dates from 1896 or 1897. 1


                The Little London Sparrow, Private collection
The Little London Sparrow, Private collection

A visitor described Whistler at work on this portrait or another of the same sitter:

'My wife and I paid a pleasant and entertaining visit to Whistler in the February of this year, at the very shabby quarters he was then occupying at 8 Fitzroy Street, a poor habitation for one so richly endowed. He was engaged at the time in painting a pretty child he had found in the neighbouring street, "a little London sparrow" he called her, "brought up on gin." He had made, so far as he had gone, a lovely picture of half tones that seemed vibrating all over the canvas.' 2

In October 1897 Whistler wrote from Paris to the art dealer Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) of Wunderlich's, asking if he was still interested in buying 'the little London waif - The London sparrow.' 3

According to Whistler's sister-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), it was varnished in 1902; the collector Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) said it was 'finished' in 1902. 4

Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 477).

2: Temple, Alfred George, Guildhall Memories, London, 1918, reprinted 2013, London: Forgotten Books, pp. 174-75; text in The Internet Archive at https://archive.org.

3: [28 October 1897], GUW #09774.

4: R. Birnie Philip to Vanderbilt, 1 May 1902, GUW #04836; n.d., Diaries, Bk 12, Freer Gallery Archives.

Last updated: 18th October 2020 by Margaret