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Whistler with the White Lock

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 162
Date: 1876/1879
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 118 x 80 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 34
Catalogues: K.172; M.169; W.142
Impressions taken from this plate  (34)


artist, hair, head, man, portrait, self-portrait.


Whistler's original title is not known. There are minor variations in later titles, as follows:

'Head of Whistler (with the gray lock)' (1881, Union League Club). 3
'Whistler, with the White Lock' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 4
'Whistler and the White Lock' (1900, Caxton Club). 5
'Whistler with the White Lock' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 6

Whistler's white lock of hair (not a grey lock) was a genetic trait, and it is the distinctive feature of this self-portrait. 'Whistler with the White Lock' is the generally accepted title.

3: New York 1881 (cat. no. 151).

4: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 142).

5: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. E124).

6: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 169).


A head and shoulders self-portrait of Whistler, his head slightly bent and turned toward the left, but looking straight forward. His hair is wavy, with a conspicuous white forelock sticking up. He is lit from the right, and shadows are indicated around him. The bottom half of the plate is empty.


Etching: c_K172_01
J. McNeill Whistler, 1870s, photograph,
Whistler Collection, Glasgow University Library.

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). This is one of several self-portraits, including Portrait of Whistler 005, Whistler with a hat 044 and Head of Whistler 318. The white lock is conspicuous in photographs such as those reproduced here. It was a genetic trait, Waardenburg syndrome, shared with his sister Deborah Delano Haden (1825-1908). A few years earlier, in 1872, Whistler's mother, in a letter to her sister, remarked on Whistler's careful coiffeur :
'he is such an original he takes the greatest care to friz a white lock (such as Debo also has had always[)], & his a copy of it, only hers is not seen, & his was hidden by his masses of curls til he fancied Aigrettes! he is confining himself too closely to his Studio, working with his brain as much as painting, his looks shew it, but if the weather improves so will health when he can paint views of the river at his open window' 7
A friend, the writer Anne Benson Procter (1799-1888) similarly described Whistler as 'a very remarkable looking person - dark - eyes & hair - and one white lock, on his forehead - all the family have this - He thinks very highly of his own works ... I always imagine that a truly great genius is never content that his idea is beyond any execution .. ' 8

8: A.B. Procter to E. Forrest, 1 June 1877, GUW #12485.

Etching: c_K172_02
J. McNeill Whistler, 1880s, photograph,
Whistler Collection, Glasgow University Library.