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Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 68
Date: 1860
Medium: drypoint
Size: 230 x 153 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at lower left (2-final)
Inscribed: '1860.' at lower left (2-final)
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 31
Catalogues: K.64; M.64; T.52; W.61
Impressions taken from this plate  (31)


man seated, portrait, writer.


There are minor variations in the title, as follows:

'Portrait Mons Axenfeldt' (1861, V&A). 1
'Mons. Oxenfeld, Littérateur, Paris' [sic] (1861, R.A.) 2
'Axenfeld' (1874, Whistler). 3
'Axenfeld' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 4
'Portrait of M. Axenfeld' (1874, Liverpool). 5

The two 1861 titles were not necessarily Whistler's; the first may have been suggested by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) and the second, clearly mispelt, by those curating the Royal Academy exhibition. 6 Whistler and most cataloguers were content with the minimal title, 'Axenfeld'.

1: 1 January 1861, V&A Register of Prints, p. 32.

2: London RA 1861 (cat. no. 974).

3: Written on .

4: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 52).

5: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 473).

6: V&A Register of Prints, p. 32.


A three-quarter-length portrait of a man seated facing left, his head in three-quarter view, looking at the viewer. He has dark wavy hair, slightly long, and swept back from his brow, a moustache and small beard (an 'imperial'). He wears a light-coloured jacket with a dark, high round collar. He sits facing slightly to the left, but looking out toward the front; his arms are folded in his lap, with his right hand holding a cigarette. He is sitting by a window, at back left, with the light therefore coming from the left, and with a dark wall behind him, on the right.


In the mid-1870s Whistler wrote 'Axenfeld' on two impressions (, ). Unfortunately he provided no further clue to establishing the sitter's identity. It is known that Whistler etched this portrait in 1860 and it has been assumed that it was done in Paris. However, the identity of the sitter has not been established beyond doubt.
In 1859 (a year before this portrait), both Whistler and a 'J. Axenfeld' ran up a bill with a Mrs Ann Gregory in London. According to the Postal Directory she ran 'dining rooms' at No. 4 Smithfield Bars. The 'Bars' were at No. 75 Smithfield, site of the Bull's Head, a pub run by James Keeley. Axenfeld's bill for 18 week's board and lodging came to £26.11.6, Whistler's account, due on 26 September 1859, for only £5.10.0, was settled in the following year but Axenfeld's bill was still outstanding. 7

7: Whistler to A. Gregory, [23 April 1860], #01859.

Heinrich Axenfeld (fl. 1857-1892) and Auguste Axenfeld (1825-1876) were born in Odessa, sons of the Jewish writer Israel Axenfeld (1787-1866). It is possible that the name 'J. Axenfeld' was a mistake, and that the bill was made out to the father, visiting London with his son Henry. Henry (Henri) Axenfeld, who studied with Léon Cogniet (1794-1880), was studying in Paris when Whistler arrived in 1855. In 1857 he was living at 74 rue de Seine and in 1859 moved permanently to 3 rue des Beaux Arts. 8 Thus around the time of this portrait, Henry Axenfeld was living and working in the same area of Paris as Whistler, and could perfectly well have made a trip to London in 1859, and worked on similar Thames subjects. Henry painted moody landscapes and genre paintings, and from 1874 he occasionally exhibited in London, though more usually in Paris.

8: Paris street directories. Many thanks to Martin Hopkinson for information about the Axenfelds.

At the Royal Academy in 1861 Whistler's etching was exhibited as 'Mons. Oxenfeld, Litterateur, Paris'. 9 The spelling is incorrect, but it is possible that Henry Axenfeld could also have been a 'Litterateur'. He later wrote Les Grandes Peintres : Ecole d'Italie, (H. Lecene and H. Oudin, 1888) and could have been writing anonymously for the Paris press.

9: London RA 1861 (cat. no. 974).

Pennell described the Axenfeld drawn by Whistler as 'the brother of the famous physician'. 10 Auguste Axenfeld (1825-1876), a naturalised French citizen, was a lecturer and fellow of the Sorbonne and physician-in-chief at the hospital Beaujin. His portrait was painted by his brother Henry. If Pennell was correct, this would confirm that the print shows Henry Axenfeld.

10: Pennell 1908[more], vol. 1, p. 70.

It is curious that J. Becquet, Sculptor 062 should show Just Becquet (1829-1907) playing a cello, define the artist Henry Axenfeld as a 'Litterateur', and show the can-can dancer Finette 061 as a fashionable woman in domino and crinoline smoking a cigarette.