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Mrs J. Birnie Philip

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 479
Date: 1896/1901
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 102 x 68 mm
Signed: butterfly at right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 3
Catalogues: K.-; M.-; T.-; W.-
Impressions taken from this plate  (3)


age, clothing, dress, fashion, portrait, woman.


Whistler's original title is not known, but the title may have been suggested by him:

'Mrs. J. Birnie-Philip' (1935, possibly Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958)). 2
'Mrs Philip' (2003, Hunterian Art Gallery). 3

The original title may have been recorded by Miss Birnie Philip, who inherited the copper plates as part of Whistler's estate and gave them to the University of Glasgow in 1935. Since she knew the sitter there is no reason to query the identification.

2: Envelope containing copper plate, Hunterian Art Gallery.

3: (accessed 2009).


A half-length portrait of an old lady seated, turned slightly to the left, with her hands in her lap. She is wearing a frilly or lacy bonnet or cap tied up with ribbons that stick up like horns. The collar of her jacket or blouse has prominent, wide reveres and the broad sleeves are ruffled, gathered, or decorated with layers of frills.


Etching: c_E09_02
Frances Philip (1824-1917). There are several portraits of Frances Philip, a formidable old lady who outlived several of her children, including Whistler's wife Beatrice. Whistler was infinitely respectful of his mother-in-law, although he appears to have avoided living in the same house as her. She was ten years older than the artist and outlived him by 14 years.
Etching: c_E09_01
Whistler drew several lithographs of Frances Philip, including Portrait Study: Mrs Philip c164, reproduced above. Among his last lithographs, done after the death of his wife, is a portrait of his mother-in-law in a similar cap, and 'leg o'mutton' sleeves, Portrait Study: Mrs Philip, No. 4 [Studies of the Philips] c177. Another shows her without the cap, but with frilly sleeves similar to those in the drypoint (Portrait Study: Mrs Philip, No. 3 c178). A third shows her with a different bonnet but possibly the same blouse (Portrait Study: Mrs Philip, No. 2 c179). A date of 1897 has been tentatively suggested for these lithographs.


Why there are no extant prints of this etching is not clear, since it appears to be in good condition. However, there are very few impressions of the lithographic portraits of Francis Philip, and it may be that Whistler, in the aftermath of Beatrice's death, destroyed some images associated with her death and family.