Milly and Maud

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:

16 thoughts on “Milly and Maud

  1. desertrat says:

    As a matter of professional ethics I make it a point NOT to divulge the names of models unless requested by a fellow artist and with the model’s permission. Even then I will generally give the model the artist’s name rather than vice-versa. This applies to all pictures whether clothed or not. For contests I must supply a model release, of course, (we’re talking photographs here) so the contest organizers know the model’s name(s) but I don’t think they casually divulge it either.

    • artmodel says:

      desertrat,

      Is your entire comment referring to photographs or all art forms? I ask because I personally feel that a fine artist who does painting and drawing is not obligated to keep the model’s identity secret. Models have no presumption of privacy if they are willingly posing for an art class or a private session. Artists I pose for know my name, and the ones who don’t frequently ask what my name is so they can write it down in the corner of their work. I’ve never signed a release or anything like that for fine arts. Photography models do, as I understand, but I don’t do photography.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Claudia

  2. Nicely written entry. Interesting, and I enjoyed seeing these Whistler images, that somehow, I have never view before.

  3. dougrogers says:

    You know, one of the things I appreciate about you is how you scrounge up some very wonderful images. Perhaps it’s my own parochialness showing through, but I’ve never seen any Whistler water-colours before. They are stunning. I know the paintings are a bit peripheral to your meaning, but it’s also that incidentalness, that casual, neglected splash which gives a brushstroke life.

    Look at the calligraphic casual work in her belt, the certainty in that couch.

    And it’s funny, I saw the images first in small clipped versions in my iPad app. They were abstract patches of colour.

    • artmodel says:

      doug,

      Yeah, I’m a good scrounger! 😆 But you’re right about Whistler’s watercolors. I really think he was an incredible artist who is a tad overlooked sometimes. In all my art discussions with artists and friends Whistler’s name almost never comes up. It’s weird.

      it’s interesting what you said about how the images looked on your iPad because Whistler probably would have loved that! His approach to painting was mainly about relationships between colors, with titles like “Arrangement in Blue”, “Harmony in Red and Gold”. etc.

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      Claudia

  4. Bill MacDonald says:

    Ah, but now models have blogs — an alternative route to fame and fortune. Or you could go on tour — after all, artists travel around the country/world doing workshops. Why not models? You could have Museworthy tee shirts, caps, DVDs . . .

    BTW, if anyone is ever in the vicinity of Lowell, MA, Whistler’s birthplace is a small museum. Not a major venue, but a nice stop:
    http://www.whistlerhouse.org/

  5. Lynn Kauppi says:

    I suspect that because models were viewed so negatively that many, if not most of them, preferred to remain anonymous.

  6. Casey Klahn says:

    Your topical reports on models are solid gold – this one is no exception. Whistler was always the odd man and yet his talent was superlative.

    Maud is extremely beautiful!

  7. Bee says:

    Having drawn dozens of models at this point in my life, it’s interesting to say that I only remember the name of a handful of them… let alone, none of my pieces have the model’s name written on them. I think as retrospectively, maybe I should have done that.

    Still, it’s quite sad to hear what happened to Maud in the end. I can only imagine what it must have been like to stick by someone’s side through such tough times- only to be left in the dust in the end.

    • artmodel says:

      Bee,

      Like you, many artists don’t record the names of their models. Sometimes they just forget. But it would be a nice habit to get into.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

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