This painting was the first work by Whistler to enter a public collection anywhere in the world.
The artist's pioneering style was a reaction against popular Victorian painting, in which subject matter and sentiment were dominant.
The title indicates that Whistler's chief interest was in creating a balanced, harmonious arrangement on the canvas. This is more important than getting an accurate likeness of the sitter.
Carlyle is shown in profile, and you can see how parts of the figure were changed as the artist worked. You can see ghostly shadows that indicate Whistler's previous attempts at the philosopher's size and shape, the position of his right hand and the fall of his coat.
The painting is a masterpiece of tonal painting. The silvery grey of Carlyle's hair and beard occupy the middle position on a tonal scale ranging from the densest of blacks to the crispest of whites.
Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Thomas Carlyle
James Abbot McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)
Oil on canvas
Size 1711mm x 1435mm
Bought by Glasgow Museums, 1891