The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Richard Albert Canfield, 1855-1914

Nationality: American
Date of Birth: 1855.06.17
Place of Birth:
Date of Death: 1914.12.11
Place of Death:


Richard Albert Canfield was a gambler and collector.


Canfield owned a number of fashionable gambling houses in New York, Rhode Island, Saratoga Springs and Newport. Business was lucrative and he became an extremely wealthy man. However, gambling was illegal in the United States and in 1885 he served a six month sentence in Rhode Island jail for violating gaming laws. In December 1902 his New York club was raided and Canfield, who was not actually arrested, escaped to England where he lived for the next four and half months. He was a heavy drinker and overweight. However, he was also a man of culture with refined tastes in art. He owned early American and Chippendale furniture, tapestries, chinese porcelain and Barye bronzes.

Charles Freer introduced Canfield to JW in 1899. Canfield came to own a number of paintings by JW including La Mère Gérard (2) (YMSM 27), Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean (YMSM 72), Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland (YMSM 97), Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder (YMSM 203), Nocturne in Blue and Silver: The Lagoon,Venice (YMSM 212), Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (YMSM 398), Rose et or: La Napolitaine (YMSM 505) and Grey and Gold: The Golden Bay, Ireland (YMSM 537). He also owned works in chalk, pastel and watercolour, including The Cemetery (M.738), Long Venice (M.748), Little Calle in San Barnaba; gold and brown (M.764), Little Canal, San Barnaba; flesh colour and grey (M.777), The Little Back Canal (M.779), Courtyard on Canal; grey and red (M.790), Nocturne - The Riva (M.799), Return of the fishing boats (M.1036), Blue and Silver - Afternoon, the Channel (M.1045), Grey and Pink (M.1209), r.: The Blue Girl; v.: Woman holding a fan (M.1223), Blue and Violet - Iris (M.1278), The Conversation (M.1289), Violet and Silver: The Afternoon Dream (M.1298), The Pink Cap (M.1308), Green and Blue: The Dancer (M.1376), The Captive (M.1524), The Bead Stringers (M.1530), Opal and Gold - Pourville Evening (M.1591), r.: Grey and Gold - Belle Isle; v.: Study for 'Grey and Gold - Belle Isle' (M.1595), Gray and Silver: The Golf Links, Dublin (M.1620), The Dancer (No.1) (M.1624), The Dancer (No.2) (M.1625), At Sea (M.1642), Shop, Algiers (M.1650), The Café - Algiers (M.1651), Street, Algiers (M.1652), Street, Corsica (M.1653), Street - Ajaccio (M.1654), r.: The Forge; v.: Smiths, Ajaccio (M.1679), r.: Blue and Silver: Morning - Ajaccio; v.: Building and trees (M.1694) and r.: The Gossips. Ajaccio; v.: group of people (M.1695). In May 1901 Canfield commissioned a portrait from JW. He started to pose for Portrait of Richard A. Canfield (YMSM 547) in March 1902. According to Alexander Gardiner, Canfield returned to Europe to sit for JW at the New Year in 1903, and sat every day until 16 May 1903. However, JW was ill and frail at this time and the work was JW's last completed portrait. The deceptive air of respectability that the portrait gave Canfield caused JW to call it 'His Reverence'. The two men were in correspondence from 1901 until JW's death. Neither the Pennells nor E. G. Kennedy approved of the friendship.

Canfield amassed the most important collection of JW's work in America after Freer. A few months before his death in 1914 he sold his collection of etchings, lithographs, drawings and paintings by JW to the American art dealer Roland F. Knoedler for $300,000.


Gardiner, Alexander, Canfield: the True Story of the Greatest Gambler, Garden City, N.Y., 1930; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995 Munhall, Edgar, Whistler and Montesquiou. The Butterfly and the Bat, New York, 1995.