Sketches of Heads

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 138
Date: 1875
Medium: drypoint
Size: 155 x 230 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 18
Catalogues: K.104; M.101
Impressions taken from this plate  (18)


child, head, knitting, man, portrait, woman.


Whistler's title is not known. The recorded titles are rather vague and minimal:

'Sketch of Heads' (1904, Grolier Club). 3
'Sketches of Heads' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 4
'Sketch of Heads' (1910, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932)). 5
'Twelve Sketches of Heads' (1905, ISSPG.) 6

If the identity of the models could be established, a more precise title would be preferable. Meanwhile Mansfield's title 'Sketches of Heads' is marginally more accurate than other suggested titles.

3: New York 1904a (cat. no. 122).

4: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 101).

5: Kennedy 1910 (cat. no. 104).

6: London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 366).


Along one side are three heads of women. The central figure has her hair arranged in a broad bun, with a fringe over her forehead, and her head is bowed over some sewing or knitting. To their right is a more finished study of a young boy or girl with short hair, facing left. On the opposite side, the other way up, are rough sketches of five heads, including a second study of the woman knitting, and possibly two more studies of her (distinguished by her hair style).


The children are probably the family of Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892) and Frances Leyland (1834-1910), possibly including Elinor Leyland (1861-1952). A similar head is seen in drawings such as Elinor Leyland [m0511], Baby Leyland [m0512] and Elinor Leyland [m0514]. The woman may be Frances Leyland or Elizabeth Dawson (b. 1840).
However, another possibility is that these are studies done in London, of, for instance, Alice Fay Greaves (b. 1852).


Whistler used the copper plate as he would a sketchbook, for unrelated sketches. A similar group of sketches is seen in Portrait sketches including F.R. Leyland and Whistler [122].