James McNeill Whistler may not have reached Picasso-levels of romantic entanglements and tempestuousness with his muses, but he sure gave Pablo a run for his money. No slouch in the messy private life arena, Whistler shared both his personal and artistic pursuits with many women. Female subjects feature prominently in Whistler’s art as clothed figures and nudes, and he had no shortage of models willing to pose for him. They ran the gamut from mistresses, professional models, relatives, to the wives and children of patrons, friends and family members. Some of those ladies became his lovers, others did not.
In all the years of writing this blog I have found that biographical information is much more readily available of those muses who were, at some point, romantically involved with the artist. The models who simply posed as a platonic professional are given short shrift. We’re lucky if we even know the names of some of them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done searches to find out the identity of models in artworks, maybe some background information, only to come up with nothing. It’s disappointing. I guess if those gals had just slept with the artists then maybe we’d know their names today
This dearth of info problem occurred with our man Whistler and his female subject named Milly Finch. Apparently she was a professional model and that’s all we know. As evidence of Miss Finch’s mysterious and unrecorded life, check out her biography page from the University of Glasgow. Question marks and blank spaces. Poor Milly.
But she sure was an outstanding subject. Here, she rocks a fan and a bit of attitude as she reclines on a divan. You go girl! Milly Finch, 1884, by James McNeill Whistler:
Then there is Maud Franklin. Born in Oxfordshire, England, Maud began posing for Whistler, it is believed, around the age of fifteen. By the 1870s and 80s she was his steady model and also his lover. The affair produced two daughters and although they never married, Maud referred to herself as “Mrs. Whistler”. She was also an artist herself.
This is Maud in Whistler’s Arrangement in White and Black. Great gesture and posture.
Whistler’s treatment of Maud was contemptible. At the time of his libel suit against John Ruskin, he effectively abandoned Maud, who was pregnant with his child, alone in a London hotel room and misled her as to his whereabouts. But Maud stood by Whistler for a few more years, throughout his financial bankruptcy and a particularly difficult time in Venice during which Maud suffered poor health and societal rejection. Then in 1888, James Whistler married another woman, Beatrice Godwin, which was devastating to Maud. She later moved to Paris, married twice, and refused to speak publicly about Whistler. In an interesting anecdote, both Maud Franklin and Joanna Hiffernan, Whistler’s previous mistress and muse, attended his funeral in London in 1903. The two women, whose romantic relationships with Whistler had been over for decades, were witnessed in profound, open expressions of grief. Maud had traveled all the way from Paris to pay her respects.
Portrait of Maud Franklin by James McNeill Whistler:
And we go back to Milly Finch, the artist’s model about whom we know almost nothing, but at least didn’t have to endure an affair with Whistler and the insensitive treatment it brought. This is drama-free modelin’ Milly in Harmony in Coral and Blue: