Artist: James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Date: 1876, reworked 1885
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 84 3/4 x 42 3/4 in. (215.3 x 108.6 cm)
Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1910
Accession Number: 10.86
Whistler's portrait of the great Victorian actor Henry Irving (1838–1895) recalls Diego Velázquez's court portraits in its format, pose, and restricted palette of black, white, silvery grays, and golden ochers. Whistler had been impressed by Irving's 1876 appearance in the role of the grandfather of Philip IV, Velázquez's patron, in Alfred Lord Tennyson's verse play Queen Mary Tudor. Discussing Whistler's canvas in 1907, the actress Ellen Terry suggested the associations with Velázquez that the actor and the artist might have had in mind in emulating the Spanish master's style. She observed that Irving, "in his dress without much colour (from the common point of view), his long grey legs, and his Velasquez-like attitudes, looked like the kind of thing which Whistler loved to paint. Velasquez had painted a real Philip of the same race; Whistler would paint the actor who created the Philip of the stage."