Portrait of Major Whistler

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
ca. 1857-1859
Oil on wood panel
H x W: 31.3 x 25.1 cm (12 5/16 x 9 7/8 in)
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Oil painting

man, portrait, United States

To 1905
Mrs. Emma W. Palmer, Stonington, CT, to 1905 [1]

From 1905 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Mrs. Emma W. Palmer in February 1905 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] Undated folder sheet note. See Original Whistler List Paintings, pg. 15-1/2, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


The authenticity of this portrait of Major George Washington Whistler has been questioned. Whistler is known to have copied a painting for Dick Palmer in 1857, and the Freer’s portrait was bought from Miss Emma W. Palmer, stepniece of the artist’s mother. However, it is odd that the portrait would have left Whistler’s immediate family, had the artist actually painted it. Whistler attempted to copy a lithographed image of his father in 1859, but the Freer’s portrait does not resemble the most logical lithographic source available to Whistler.

The Freer’s oil portrait of Major Whistler most closely resembles another portrait, made by Chester Harding, and now in the collection at Glasgow University. From about 1840 until 1842, Major Whistler and Harding were neighbors in Massachusetts. Harding painted Major Whistler during this time. He also allowed his student W.S. Elwell to copy his portrait of the major. The Freer’s portrait is not by Elwell. But Harding himself frequently made replicas of his own paintings, and it is possible that this portrait was executed by Harding rather than by the son of the sitter.

Published References
  • unknown title. Lowell, Mass., Thursday, July 30, 1936. .
  • Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Joseph Pennell. The Life of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols., London and Philadelphia. vol. 1: p. 4.
  • Andrew McLaren Young, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer. The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler. Studies in British Art 2 vols. New Haven, 1980. vol. 2: pl. 11.
  • Burns A. Stubbs. Paintings, Pastels, Drawings, Prints, and Copper Plates by and Attributed to American and European Artists, Together with a List of Original Whistleriana, in the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 1, no. 2, 2nd ed. Washington, 1967. pl. 24.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1984. p. 101, pl. 2.
  • James Warren Lane, Aimee Crane. Whistler. New York. p. 109.
  • Alfred Janson Bloor. The Beginnings of James McNeill Whistler. vol. 48, no. 2, February 1906. p. 131.
  • Whistler. The great artists: their lives, works and inspiration, vol. 19 London. p. 579.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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