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The Velvet Dress (Mrs Leyland)

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 120
Date: 1873/1874
Medium: drypoint
Size: 232 x 157 mm
Signed: butterfly at left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 7
Known impressions: 17
Catalogues: K.105; M.105; T.76; W.91
Impressions taken from this plate  (17)


clothing, dress, fashion, full-length, portrait, woman standing.


Variations on the title are few:

'The Velvet dress' (1870s, Whistler). 2
'Mrs. Leyland' (1870s, Whistler). 3
'Portrait of a Lady' (1874, James Anderson Rose (1819-1890)). 4
'Portrait' (1874, Whistler). 5
'The Velvet Dress' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 6
'Velvet Dress' (1887, Whistler). 7
'The Velvet Dress (Mrs Leyland)' (2010, Whistler Etching Project).

'The Velvet Dress (Mrs Leyland)' combines elements of Whistler's various titles.

2: Written on Graphic with a link to impression #K1050411.

3: Written on Graphic with a link to impression #K1050501.

4: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 479).

5: London Pall Mall 1874.

6: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 91).

7: Whistler to Dowdeswell's, 28 April 1887, GUW #13020.


A full-length figure of a lady who stands looking to the left, seen slightly from the back, with her left arm by her side. Her dress has a fitted bodice and a high neck with a ruff, a narrow fitted waist and a broad skirt falling in heavy folds. There is shading, suggesting a curtain, in the background.


Frances Leyland (1834-1910). It is said that Mrs Leyland wanted to be painted in a black velvet dress as seen in the portraits of Helen Rose Huth (1837-1924), Arrangement in Black, No. 2: Portrait of Mrs Louis Huth [y125]. According to the Pennells,
'[Mrs Leyland] was a beautiful woman, with wonderful red hair. Whistler made a dry-point of her, The Velvet Gown, and in black velvet she wanted him to paint her. But he preferred a dress in harmony with the hair.' 8

8: Pennell 1908, I, p. 177.

For the oil, Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland [y106], she posed in a much more complex dress, designed by Whistler. Several related chalk drawings, including Mrs Leyland, standing, holding a book [m0437], show the development of that costume. 9

9: Freer Gallery of Art; MacDonald 2003, pp. 101, 136, 138, 217.


This is one of several images where the subject is dress and fashion (i.e. The Little Velvet Dress [119], The Silk Dress [151], The Muff [131], The Fur Tippet: Miss Lenoir [365] and The Little Hat [366]). Clearly it is also a portrait, and, in its elegant simplicity, as much an icon of the Aesthetic Movement as Whistler's oil portrait of the same sitter, Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland [y106].