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Portrait of Whistler

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 5
Date: 1857
Medium: etching
Size: 118 x 80 mm
Signed: 'J. W.' at lower right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 3
Catalogues: K.7; M.9; T.-; W.1
Impressions taken from this plate  (3)


head, man, portrait, self-portrait.


Several known titles stress the period as well as the subject of this etching:

'Early portrait of Self' (1870s, Whistler). 4
'Portrait of the Artist' (1881, Union League Club). 5
'Early portrait of Whistler' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)) 6
'Whistler - Early' (1891/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 7
'Early portrait of Whistler' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 8

'Early' is not usual in a title, although Whistler's own note suggested it. 'Portrait of Whistler' is more straightforward.

4: Written on on Graphic with a link to impression #K0070101.

5: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 1, 2).

6: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 1).

7: List, GUW #12715.

8: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 9).


A quarter-length self-portrait of the artist, facing front and bending forward, his right arm resting on a table, the hand raised and holding a cigarette. He has a small moustache, and thick wavy hair parted on the right, with locks falling over his forehead to left. He is wearing a dark jacket over a shirt, with a dark cravat tied in a floppy bow.


James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). This is a head and shoulders self-portrait. The artist looks very young, his face rounded and soft, with wavy hair in a fringe, softening it further. Whistler wrote on one impression, 'Early portrait of self -' (Graphic with a link to impression #K0070101).
Wedmore suggested that 'Whistler was Whistler's first model', to which Cosmo Monkhouse objected:
'He hazards suppositions which are scarcely regular, and expresses opinions which he should sternly repress. ... What right has he, for instance, to hint, with regard to the "Early Portrait of Whistler" (No. 1 in the catalogue, "that Whistler was Whistler's first model"'. 9

9: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 1). Monkhouse, C., 'Whistler's Etchings: a Study and a catalogue by Frederick Wedmore (Thibaudeau)', The Academy, 10 February 1887, p. 136.


The photograph in which Whistler looks most like this etching shows him at the age of 10 when, not surprisingly, he does not have a moustache. 10 Likewise, the oil portrait by William Boxall, painted ca 1850, a photograph of which is reproduced below, shows him with a similar youthful face and curly hair-style.

10: Glasgow University Library, PH 1/93.

Comparative image
W. Boxall, James A. Whistler, ca 1850, oil, The Hunterian.
Photograph in Whistler Collection, Glasgow University Library.
There is some resemblance between the etched self-portrait and the young artist as in an early drawing, An artist in his studio [m0211]. Whistler's early self-portraits are all difficult to date; some show a somewhat sturdier, heavy featured figure (Whistler Smoking [y009], Portrait of Whistler with Hat [y023]) and others have an element of caricature (Sketches of the journey to Alsace [m0286]).