Overview

Known for his biting wit, extravagant style, and personal eccentricities, the publicity-conscious Whistler used self-portraiture as a means to manipulate his public persona. Gold and Brown belongs to a small group of works executed in the mid-1890s in which Whistler replaced the flamboyance of his earlier self-portraits with an aura of introspection and heightened spirituality. Here he presents himself as a reserved, mature gentleman who turns his head to acknowledge the viewer's presence with a slight smile. Whistler's trademarks—the monocle, the white lock of hair, the mustache, and the small imperial beard—are all present. Completing the ensemble is the red ribbon of the Légion d'Honneur, France's highest decoration, in his lapel.

Whistler's transformation of his public image can be partly ascribed to his despondency over the recent death of his wife, Beatrice. At the same time, he wanted to present himself as regarded by his admirers as a "living old master": a status he could claim after the French government purchased his Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1: The Painter's Mother (best-known as Whistler's Mother, 1871, Musée d'Orsay, Paris) in 1892. In her study of Whistler's changing image, art historian Sarah Burns noted that this development, along with his purported disdain for financial and material considerations, rendered him a modernized, scientifically verified recreation of the idealized, lofty, disinterested Old Master." According to the artist's sister-in-law, Gold and Brown was the portrait that "Whistler wanted to be remembered by."

More information on this painting may be found in the NGA publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II, available as a free PDF. Find under Research > Publications > Systematic Catalogues.

Inscription

center right with the artist's butterfly mark

Provenance

Sold by 1900 to George W. Vanderbilt [1862-1914], Asheville, North Carolina, but retained in Whistler's studio until probably 1904;[1] bequeathed 1914 to Vanderbilt's widow, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser Vanderbilt [later Mrs. Peter G. Gerry, d. 1958], Asheville, North Carolina, and Providence, Rhode Island; gift 1959 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1898
Exhibition of International Art, International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers, London, 1898, no. 179, as Gold and Brown.
1904
Oil Paintings, Watercolors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Copley Hall, Boston, 1904, no. 1, as Gold and Brown--Portrait of Mr. James McNeill Whistler.
1905
Oeuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905, no. 29, as Brun et Or--Portrait de Whistler.
1968
From El Greco to Pollock: Early and Late Works by European and American Artists, Baltimore Museum of Art, 1968, no. 90, as Brown and Gold: Self-Portrait.
1969
James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1969, no. 53, as Braun und Gold: Selbstbildnis.
1974
Selected American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, University Center Gallery, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, 1974, no cat.
1978
Whistler - The Later Years, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, 1978, unnumbered checklist, repro., as Brown and Gold: Self-Portrait.
1988
Fin-de-siècle Faces: Portraiture in the Age of Proust, Visual Arts Gallery, School of Humanities, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1988, no. 40.
1994
James McNeill Whistler, Tate Gallery, London; Musée d'Orsay, Paris; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1994-1995, no. 204, repro., as Gold and Brown.
1999
Whistler and Vanderbilt: An Artist and His Patron, Biltmore House, Asheville, 1999, no cat.
2002
Manet/Velázquez, La manière espagnole au XIXe siècle [Manet/Velázquez, The French Taste for Spanish Painting], Musée d'Orsay, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2002-2003, no. 226, fig. 14.87 (shown only in New York).
Bibliography
1907
Cary, Elizabeth Luther. The Works of James McNeill Whistler: A Study, with a Tentative List of the Artist's Works. New York, 1907: 155.
1908
Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell. The Life of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols. London, 1908: 2:221, drawing repro. facing 202.
1913
Gallatin, Albert E. Portraits and Caricatures of James McNeill Whistler, an Iconography. London, 1913: 6-7, 20-21, fig. 7.
1918
Gallatin, Albert E. Portraits of Whistler: A Critical Study and an Iconography. London, 1918: 10, 28, fig. 7.
1921
Pennell, Elizabeth Robins. The Whistler Journal. Philadelphia, 1921: 40.
1963
Sutton, Denys. Nocturne: The Art of James McNeill Whistler. London, 1963: 131, fig. 58.
1966
Sutton, Denys. James McNeill Whistler: Paintings, Etchings, Pastels, Watercolours. London, 1966: 197, pl. 128.
1970
American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 122, repro.
1980
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 257, repro.
1980
Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, and Robin Spencer, with the assistance of Hamish Miles. The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols. New Haven, 1980: 1:202-203, no. 462; 2:pl. 296.
1981
Williams 1981, repro. 132, 135, 137.
1984
Stein, Donna. Whistler. New York, 1984: 30, color pl. 15.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 561, no. 851, color repro.
1990
Burns, Sarah. "Old Maverick to Old Master: Whistler in the Public Eye in Turn-of-the-Century America." The American Art Journal 22, no. 1 (Spring 1990): 42, fig. 9.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 382, repro.
1994
Dorment, Richard, and Margaret F. MacDonald. James McNeill Whistler. Exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London; Musée d'Orsay, Paris; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. London, 1994: no. 204, 284, color repro.
1995
Denker, Eric. In Pursuit of the Butterfly: Portraits of James McNeill Whistler. Exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1995: 144, fig. 5:23.
1998
Torchia, Robert Wilson, with Deborah Chotner and Ellen G. Miles. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 257-261, color repro.
2003
Merrill, Linda, et al. After Whistler: The Artist and His Influence on American Painting. Exh. cat. High Museum of Art, Atlanta; The Detroit Institute of Arts. Atlanta, 2003: 89-90, fig. 74.