Miss Alexander

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 117
Date: 1873
Medium: drypoint
Size: 225 x 148 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 2
Catalogues: K.139; M.137
Impressions taken from this plate  (2)


fur, girl, girl seated, portrait.


Whistler's original title is not known. Only one title has been recorded, as for example:

'Miss Alexander' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 1
'Miss Alexander' (1910, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932)). 2

1: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 137).

2: Kennedy 1910 (cat. no. 139).


A young girl with a short, straight fringe, her hair tied back with a bow behind her head and falling down over her shoulders, sits facing three-quarters right. She is sitting in a large armchair that has straight, carved arms. Her legs and skirt have been drawn in several positions, and the lines of the chair were added over them. Upside down is an earlier drypoint showing a woman, face on, wearing a fur tippet round her neck, her head being under the legs of the armchair.


If the title - which can not be traced back to Whistler - is correct, this was one of the six daughters of William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) and his wife, Rachel Agnes Lucas. The eldest, Agnes Mary ('May') Alexander, was born on 7 November 1862. Whistler was originally commissioned to paint a portrait of May, but then asked if he could paint the younger sister, Cicely Henrietta Alexander (1864-1932). As a result Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander [y129] was completed before the oil of Miss May Alexander [y127]. In addition Whistler made numerous drawings of the girls, such as Study for 'Portrait of Miss May Alexander' [m0498], Study for the portrait of Miss Cicely Alexander [m0505], and drawings of a younger sister, Grace, who was born in 1867 (i.e.Sketch for 'Portrait of Miss Grace Alexander' [m0507]).

The 1881 census recorded Agnes M. Alexander aged 18, Cicely H. aged 17, Helen C. aged 15, Grace aged 13, Emily M. aged 9, Rachel aged 5 and Jean J. aged 3, as well as eight servants in the household at Aubrey House, London, Middlesex. At the date of Whistler's drypoint, 'May' Alexander would have been about 11; Cicely, 10; Helen, 8; and Grace, 6 years old. The girl in the drypoint could be any of these children, or another of similar age.
Whistler's portraits share a certain family resemblance at times, partly due to the current fashions and partly to his own taste in dress and hair.
Thus the sitter also looks quite like Fanny Leyland (1857-1880), as she appears in the seated portrait, Fanny Leyland [135], or Florence Leyland (1859-1921), as she appears in Florence Leyland [136], but at the time of this drypoint Fanny Leyland was about 17 and Florence, 15, which does seem rather too old for the child in the drypoint.