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 can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/American%20Paintings%20of%20the%20Nineteenth%20Century%20Part%20II.pdf
center right with the artist's butterfly mark
Sold by 1900 to George W. Vanderbilt [1862-1914], Asheville, North Carolina, but retained in Whistler's studio until probably 1904; 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 of International Art, International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers, London, 1898, no. 179, as Gold and Brown.
- 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.
- Oeuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905, no. 29, as Brun et Or--Portrait de Whistler.
- 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.
- James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1969, no. 53, as Braun und Gold: Selbstbildnis.
- Selected American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, University Center Gallery, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, 1974, no cat.
- Whistler - The Later Years, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, 1978, unnumbered checklist, repro., as Brown and Gold: Self-Portrait.
- Fin-de-siècle Faces: Portraiture in the Age of Proust, Visual Arts Gallery, School of Humanities, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1988, no. 40.
- 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.
- Whistler and Vanderbilt: An Artist and His Patron, Biltmore House, Asheville, 1999, no cat.
- 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).
- Cary, Elizabeth Luther. The Works of James McNeill Whistler: A Study, with a Tentative List of the Artist's Works. New York, 1907: 155.
- Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell. The Life of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols. London, 1908: 2:221, drawing repro. facing 202.
- Gallatin, Albert E. Portraits and Caricatures of James McNeill Whistler, an Iconography. London, 1913: 6-7, 20-21, fig. 7.
- Gallatin, Albert E. Portraits of Whistler: A Critical Study and an Iconography. London, 1918: 10, 28, fig. 7.
- Pennell, Elizabeth Robins. The Whistler Journal. Philadelphia, 1921: 40.
- Sutton, Denys. Nocturne: The Art of James McNeill Whistler. London, 1963: 131, fig. 58.
- Sutton, Denys. James McNeill Whistler: Paintings, Etchings, Pastels, Watercolours. London, 1966: 197, pl. 128.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 122, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 257, repro.
- 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.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: repro. 132, 135, 137.
- Stein, Donna. Whistler. New York, 1984: 30, color pl. 15.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 561, no. 851, color repro.
- 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.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 382, repro.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.