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Irving as Philip of Spain, No. 1

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 158
Date: 1876/1877
Medium: drypoint
Size: 228 x 153 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 6
Catalogues: K.170; M.167; W.139
Impressions taken from this plate  (6)


actor, costume, dress, full-length, man, portrait, theatrical.


Henry Irving (1838-1905) was so well known that the titles given to Whistler's drypoint portrait do not even give his full name:

'Irving' (1877, Whistler). 3
'Irving as Philip of Spain. (No.1.)' (1903/1935, possibly Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958)). 4
'Irving as Philip of Spain' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 5
'Irving as Philip of Spain, No. 1' (1910, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932)). 6

The drypoint is closely related to another portrait in which Irving is similarly dressed and posed, Irving as Philip of Spain, No. 2 [159], and so the numbering given by Kennedy is understandable, but not necessary. Mansfield's title 'Irving as Philip of Spain' is sufficient.

3: Whistler to C. A. Howell, 9-11 November [1877], GUW #12738.

4: Envelope containing copper plate, University of Glasgow).

5: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 167).

6: Kennedy 1910 (cat. no. 170).


Henry Irving (1838-1905), dressed in the costume of Philip of Spain, stands facing nearly front, looking straight at the viewer, with his body turned slightly to the left and legs wide apart. His feet are not indicated. His left hand is raised to his breast and his right arm hangs by his side, slightly out from the body. He wears a close-fitting square-necked jacket over a shirt with a narrow frill round the neck, slightly full pantaloons and close-fitting tights. He has a neat up-turning moustache and a small pointed beard, and wears a dark, narrow brimmed hat with a high peak and white plume. A short cloak falls from his shoulders at right. Shadows are indicated behind him at the top and to right.


Whistler made two drypoint portraits of Henry Irving (1838-1905), this and Irving as Philip of Spain, No. 2 [159]. Irving first appeared in the part of Philip II (1527-1598) of Spain in Tennyson's historical drama Queen Mary, which had a brief run at the Lyceum Theatre, London, from 18 April to 13 May 1876. 7

7: Mary Tudor (1516-1558) Queen of England 1553-1558.

Comparative image
Arrangement in Black, No. 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain [y187], oil, 1876, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Photograph, 1892.
Whistler Collection, Special Collections, Glasgow University Library.
By May 1876 Whistler was painting Irving, and the oil portrait, Arrangement in Black, No. 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain [y187] was exhibited in London at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 (cat. no. 7). Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) wrote of the oil portrait: 'out of black smudgy clouds comes looming the gaunt figure of Mr Henry Irving . . . his legs are stuck wide apart, a queer stiff position that Mr Irving often adopts preparatory to one of his long wolf-like strides across the stage. The figure. . . though apparently one-armed, is so ridiculously like the original that one cannot help almost laughing when one sees it.' 8

8: Oscar Wilde, 'The Grosvenor Gallery', The Dublin University Magazine, vol. 90, 1877, p. 124.


Whistler's oil painting of Irving was radically changed several times over a considerable period. The drypoint portraits are related to the early composition of the portrait in 1876-1877, where the sitter does not wear a chain round his neck, and has no garter. Furthermore, the cloak that hung loosely from Irving's shoulders in the earlier state is shown in the finished oil of about 1885 as thrown forward over the sitter's right shoulder. 9

9: YMSM 1980 (cat. no. 187).

The Pennells wrote about Whistler's failure to reproduce in etching or lithography a portrait originally painted in oils:
'A plate was made from the Irving as Philip of Spain, the only one of his portraits that Whistler reproduced on copper, and he did it very badly ... He was bored to death with copying himself, and twenty years afterwards, when he undertook to make a lithograph of his Montesquiou, and failed, he said that "it was impossible to produce the same masterpiece twice over", that "inspiration would not come," that when he was not working at a new thing from Nature, he was not applying himself, "it was as difficult as for a hen to lay the same egg twice."' 10

10: Pennell 1908, I, p. 215; Count Robert de Montesquiou, No. 2 [c084] and Count Robert de Montesquiou [c085].

This does not entirely cover the situation when Whistler was making a drypoint portrait like the portraits of Irving, which is more in the nature of a devlopment of the portrait format than a reproduction.