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The Slipper

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 43
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 120 x 80 mm
Signed: 'Whistler -' at lower right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 26
Catalogues: K.28; M.28; T.29; W.29
Impressions taken from this plate  (26)


genre, illustration, portrait, reading, slipper, woman reclining.


There are three main alternatives in known titles, as follows:

'La dame lisant' (1859, Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910)). 4
'Reading in Bed' (1872, British Museum). 5
'The Slipper' (1873/1874, Whistler). 6
'Reading in Bed' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 7
'The Slipper' (1881, Union League Club). 8
'Reading in Bed' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 9
'The Slipper' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 10

'La dame lisant' (Woman Reading) is the earliest title, recorded by Haden, the sitter's husband, followed by 'Reading in Bed', which was the title known to Percy Thomas (1846-1922) (who sold an impression to the British Museum in 1872) and Ralph Thomas. The Thomas brothers may well have been present when the etching was being reworked and printed in London in 1861.

However, the slightly unusual title 'The Slipper' was that given by Whistler in the early 1870s, by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (in the 1881 catalogue) and by Mansfield. The lonely slipper in the foreground of the interior provides good justification for this title, which diferentiates it clearly from similar subjects, particularly another portrait of the same sitter, Reading by Lamplight 037.

4: Haden to A. Delâtre, 29 June [1859], GUW #13140.

5: B.M. Print Room Register of Purchases...1872.

6: Inscription on .

7: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 29).

8: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 43-44).

9: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 29).

10: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 28).


A young woman with slightly wavy, dark, shoulder length hair, lies reading in a curtained bed, which could be a box-bed or four-poster. Only one hand is visible, holding the journal. Strong light from the right casts deep shadows under the bed and over and above the figure, though her journal is in the light. The horizontal shading to left of the pillow, over the bed clothes, is very cursory, creating a large, flat area. The left quarter of the plate is blank.
Mansfield's description ('A young woman with long flowing hair') is inaccurate because her hair is clearly shoulder length. 11

11: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 28).


Deborah Delano Haden (1825-1908), also the model for Reading by Lamplight 037, and the woman in The Music Room 039. 12 Deborah was shortsighted, which explains why she is holding the journal so close to her face. She eventually went blind.

Wedmore suggested that in the second state, 'This change was made in 1861, its object, as I suppose, being to destroy a likeness otherwise apparent'. 13 Cosmo Monkhouse objected:

12: Lochnan 1984[more], pp. 59-60.

13: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 29).

'[Wedmore] hazards suppositions which are scarcely regular, and expresses opinions which he should sternly repress. ... What right has he, for instance, to hint, ... that the artist altered the nose of the woman "Reading in Bed" in order to destroy a likewise otherwise apparent?' 14
It may be however that Whistler was using a different model to make revisions to the composition. A similar process took place in Nursemaid and Child 042. Since the etching is really small the change is not all that obvious.


It is not clear if the site is in London or Paris, Thomas favouring the former, and Lochnan the latter. 15

If the sitter is definitely Deborah Haden, then the site is almost certainly the Hadens' house in Sloane Street, London.

15: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 29); Lochnan 1984[more], pp. 59-60.


Wedmore's description of the scene was emotive, describing a bed in which 'a dark-haired woman is discovered reading. She holds a magazine - or is it a large flapping edition of some Paul de Kock? - in her left hand, near her face.' 16 Charles Paul De Kock (1793-1871), was a French novelist, popular in Britain for his stories of middle-class Parisian life, of grisettes and romantic episodes. The best known are Andre le Savoyard (1825) and Le Barbier de Paris (1826). It is likely that Wedmore was being dismissive of women's taste, implying that she would read romantic literature rather than The Times.

16: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 29).

Lochnan called this etching 'the first of Whistler's middle-class domestic genre subjects' and suggested that it was influenced by the etchings of Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn (1617-1681), such as Studies, with Saskia Lying ill in Bed (ca 1639-1642, B.369). 17

17: Lochnan 1984[more], pp. 59-60.

There is a voyeuristic element in the subject, where the woman, half-shadowed, is glimpsed (or, as Wedmore puts it, 'discovered') in bed. The single slipper suggests both carelessness and intimacy. It also creates a small space in front of the shallow stage of the curtained bed. The act of reading serves to distance the woman from the viewer, who is also, in a way, 'reading' the composition.
It is by no means clear whether this is a portrait of a woman (his half-sister) whom Whistler treated with great affection throughout his life, or is intended as a domestic scene, a story, or an illustration.