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Bibi Lalouette

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 33
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 227 x 151 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at lower right
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower right
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 69
Catalogues: K.51; M.51; T.30; W.30
Impressions taken from this plate  (69)


boy, child seated, military cap, portrait.


'Bibi Lalouette' was the usual form of the title given by Whistler and his cataloguers, although there are minor variations in spelling:

'Bibi Lalouette - Paris' (1870s, Whistler). 1
'Bibi L'Allouette' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 2
'Portrait of Bibi L’Allouette' (1874, James Anderson Rose (1819-1890)). 3
'Bibi Lalouette' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 4

The pet name of the sitter was 'Bibi Lalouette' and this, as the title, is confirmed by Whistler's pencil note, written on an impression of the etching, and by later cataloguers, except for some, like Thomas, who spelled it incorrectly.

1: Inscription, .

2: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 30).

3: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 478).

4: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 30).


A little boy with short curly hair is sitting in profile to left, head slightly bent, wearing a smock tied at the neck with a dark ribbon. His left hand rests on the bed on which he sits, and to left and in front is a dark cap with soft crown, a hat-band with a badge, and a short visor. Upside down at bottom left is a faint sketch of a pretty face, and to right, another head, also upside down.


According to Wedmore: 'He was the son of Lalouette, who kept a pension near the Rue Dauphine, at which Whistler, Legros, Fantin, and others used to take their meals in those early days.' 5 J. M. Lalouette (d. 1871), had a restaurant and lodging at 5 rue de l'Odéon, Paris. By the time Whistler returned to London after etching this portrait of Bibi, he apparently owed Lalouette quite a lot of money. Eventually he sent an instalment of 748.80 francs; Lalouette replied to 'Monsieur Vistheler':

5: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 30).

'... plus dune fois cette pauvre Mère Lalouette dissait je suit trop bette et jai trop de confiance aussi dissait elle je ne le serait plus autant a la suite....enfin vous lui avez remis du baume dans le coeur par votre lettre et de la confiance pour l'avenire. / Je suis heureux mon cher des succeés que vous obtenez a londre succeés du reste qui vous sont bien meritée car votre courage et votre assiduitée au travaille vous en reserve de bien plus grand pour l'avenire ... tant qu'aux recommandations pour votre eauforte soyez tranquille elle est delicieusement encadrée et bien soignée / mil choses aimable de la part de madame Lalouette ... et particulierement Bibi qui parle souvant de vous' 6
Translated: '...more than once poor Mother Lalouette said I am too foolish and too trusting and I shall not be so much so in future. ... at last you have soothed her heart by your letter and confidence for the future. / I am happy my dear fellow at the success you have had in London success moreover which you have well earned and your courage and assiduity in your work are promising even greater things for the future ... as for the advice about your etching rest assured it is exquisitely framed and well cared for / A thousand kind thoughts from Mme Lalouette ... and particularly Bibi who often speaks of you'


In 1876, an American visitor to the British Museum, E.D. Wallace (fl. 1871-1887), poet, novelist and writer on art, described seeing an impression of the portrait ():

'One child - " Bibi l'Allouth" [sic] - has such a head of soft, curly hair that one is tempted to touch the delicate locks to see if they are really but pictures. It reminded one of the hair painted so beautifully in the portraits of J.O. Eaton, Esq., of New York ... ' 7

Joseph Oriel Eaton (1829-1875), teacher of William Merritt Chasse, was a portrait painter, and did indeed excel in painting wavy hair. 8

7: 'Mr Whistler's Paintings', Baltimore Gazette, after 1 April 1876, in GUL PC1/75; partially quoting E.D. Wallace, 'The Fine Arts Abroad', Forney's Weekly Press, Philadelphia, 1 April 1876.

8: i.e. A woman and child at the barber, 1870, Winter Associates, Plainville, CT, 6 April 2009, Lot 46 at 2012).