The great Victorian and social critic, Thomas Carlyle, asked Whistler to paint his portrait after having seen Whistler's portrait of his own mother in the artist's studio. Like 'Whistler's Mother' (Musee d'Orsay, Paris), Carlyle is shown in profile against a plain background. Despite the fact that Whistler was portraying the most famous moral philosopher of the Victorian age, he chose to give the painting an abstract title. Whistler's point is clear – through his art, the painter can transform even the most eminent personality, into a study in shape and texture.
The portrait is remarkable for its sympathetic portrayal of the elderly man – Carlyle was 78 years old. In his journal, during the period of his sittings to Whistler, Carlyle noted: 'More and more dreary, barren, base, and ugly seem to me all the aspects of this poor diminishing quack world'.
Whistler's painting was bought directly from the artist by the City of Glasgow in 1891. It was the first work by Whistler to enter a public collection anywhere in the world.
Where to see this painting?
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Argyle Street, Glasgow, Scotland, G3 8AG
If you are planning a visit to see this painting, check with the collection first. Paintings can be moved at short notice.