Reflecting on his painting of Carlyle, Whistler wrote in 1891: ‘He is a favorite of mine – I like the gentle sadness about him! perhaps he was even sensitive – and even misunderstood – who knows!’ The painting was exhibited at the International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1888 and following a campaign by leading Scottish artists it was purchased by the by the city of Glasgow in 1891, making it the first ever Whistler painting to enter a public collection.
Considered purely as a work of art, Whistler’s portrait of Carlyle is a masterpiece of aesthetic arrangement and tonal harmony and a coup for the city which was to become the centre for Whistler scholarship with gifts from the artist’s sister-in-law Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873–1958) to the University of Glasgow in 1935, 1954 and 1958. However, dialogue around this painting, whose very title positions itself in terms of colour, needs to acknowledge the noxious prejudice and racism of both artist and sitter.
Dr Jo Meacock
Curator of British Art
For more information on Glasgow Museums’ collections please visit http://collections.glasgowmuseums.com
Images (c) CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection