About This Artwork

James McNeill Whistler
American, 1834-1903

Reading by Lamplight, 1859

Etching and drypoint, with foul biting, in black on cream laid paper
160 x 119 mm (plate); 232 x 168 mm (sheet)

Bequest of Bryan Lathrop, 1917.443

Long before Whistler conceived of the portrait of his mother, his most important early models were his half-sister, Deborah Haden, and her family. Deborah was married to the physician, print collector, and amateur artist Francis Seymour Haden, and they had three children, Annie, Seymour, and Arthur. During one visit in 1859, Whistler created ambitious but personal depictions of the family, including the multifigure The Music Room (1917.444), which portrays the couple along with Haden’s medical partner, James Traer, as deeply absorbed in their respective activities. Meanwhile, the severe profile of Deborah in Reading by Lamplight anticipates Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1.

— Exhibition label, Whistler’s Mother: An American Icon Returns to Chicago, March 4–May 21, 2017, Gallery 272.

This work is featured in the online catalogue Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions, which accompanied an Art Institute exhibition of the same title. The catalogue explores the artistic collaboration between James McNeill Whistler and Theodore Roussel and offers a new perspective on the artists, their circle, and resulting innovations in nineteenth-century art.

Interpretive Resources

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