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Brushing the Hair

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 94
Date: 1863
Medium: drypoint
Size: 231 x 154 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at lower right
Inscribed: '1863.' at lower right
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 17
Catalogues: K.93; M.93
Impressions taken from this plate  (17)


cancelled plate, hair, Japonisme, woman seated, woman standing, interior, model, toilet.


Various titles have been proposed, as follows:

'Brushing the Hair' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 1
'The Toilette' (1900, Whistler). 2
'Two Young Girls' (1905, ISSPG). 3
'The Toilet' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 4

'Brushing the Hair' is an accurate and descriptive title, whereas 'The Toilet' is a title that could be confused with Whistler's title for a lithograph (The Toilet c010). Furthermore Whistler himself - in his letter to Kennedy, mentioned above - seemed to have some doubt about 'The Toilette' as its title.

1: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

2: Whistler to E.G. Kennedy, [12/15 February 1900], GUW #09799.

3: London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 386).

4: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 93).


At upper right are the head and shoulders of a woman in profile to the left, with a few lines indicating her bust and arms. Her hair is drawn back into a rough chignon ornamented with a large bow. She is brushing and arranging the wavy, shoulder length hair of a girl facing left, whose features are not expressed. There is shading in the background.


Joanna Hiffernan (b. ca 1843) and her sister, Bridget Agnes Hiffernan (1844/1845-after 1919). Whistler identified it as 'Jo & her sister doing her hair - "The Toilette" I think it may be called - (dry point)'. 5 Jo also appears in Jo's Bent Head 088, and in several etchings and paintings at this date. Agnes appears in the drypoint of that title, Agnes 146.

5: Whistler to E.G. Kennedy, [12/15 February 1900], GUW #09799.


This is one of several studies showing intimate details of women's life. These include The Slipper 043, Reading by Lamplight 037, Venus 060, Weary 093, Reading a Book 112, Tatting 130, The Letter (Maud, seated) 116, Sleeping Girl 127, Binding the Hair 334, Woman sleeping in a chair 401, and drawings such as r.: Seated woman, smoking; v.: Head of child m0291.
A source of inspiration may well have been a colour wood block print from The Hairdresser Series: 'Fujin Tewaza Juni-Ko' by Kitagawa Utamaro (1754-1806). 6

6: British Museum 1937.0710.0.96