By the early 1890s, James McNeill Whistler had begun to earn recognition for his art on both sides of the Atlantic, and received many commissions to portray prominent Americans and Europeans. Sensitive and understated in their characterization of sitters, his portraits were also conceived as compositions of subtle color and form, as the first part of the title of the Art Institute’s work, Arrangement in Flesh Color and Brown.
This portrait depicts the lawyer Arthur Jerome Eddy. Eddy asked Whistler to paint his likeness after seeing the artist’s work in the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893. Eddy traveled to Whistler’s Paris studio, where the two apparently formed a lasting friendship (the year after Whistler’s death, Eddy wrote Recollections and Impressions of James A. McNeill Whistler [Philadelphia/London, 1903] as a memorial to the painter).
In the portrait, Whistler used a muted palette and placed his subject against a subdued, gray background. Eddy commented on the artist’s technique: "It was as if the portrait were hidden within the canvas and the master by passing his wand day after day over the surface evoked the image." In 1913 Eddy purchased many works from the famous Armory Show, which introduced Americans to revolutionary European art (and enraged many in the process). This exhibition, which Eddy encouraged to have shown in Chicago, prompted him to write the first book by an American on modern European art, Cubists and Post-Impressionism (Chicago, 1914). The Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection, including this portrait, was presented to the Art Institute in 1931.
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