The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Matthew Robinson Elden, 1839-1885

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1839
Place of Birth:
Date of Death: 1885
Place of Death:


Matthew Robinson Elden was an artist.


Elden, who in 1879 he was living at 69 Mallinson Road, New Wandsworth, in Battersea, London, was friendly with JW from the mid 1870s. He was employed by JW to keep track of his paintings after his bankruptcy and was in contact with JW during his stay in Venice in 1880.

On JW's return from Venice, Elden was frequently to be found in his company. JW sought to persuade Elden to travel to Jersey and Guernsey with him in 1881, suggesting that he might get a number of watercolours done there and thus earn himself some money [#12818]. Way recalled: 'Whistler always seemed to want to have some one in attendance, as it were, when he was working, and for a long time a mysterious man named Eldon was constantly around him. What he did exactly, or even how he lived, I do not know, but he was entertaining, and seemed generally to make himself useful to Whistler.' Alan Cole noted in his diary on 2 May 1882 that JW was 'painting his 'Blue Girl' [Scherzo in Blue: The Blue Girl (YMSM 226)]. Eldon there as a kind of claque calling out splendid on each of J's strokes on canvas'. JW referred to him affectionately at this time as 'Eldoni' [#12829].

In 1882 JW began a portrait of Elden, Portrait of H. R. Eldon (1) (YMSM 243). He also made a smaller version, Portrait of H. R. Eldon (2) (YMSM 244), which, according to Pennell, was sent to the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in London in 1905. According to Walter Sickert a further portrait of Elden was carried out around 1883. Portrait of H. R. Eldon (3) (YMSM 245) was the only one of the three portraits to survive, although it was never finished.

Elden unfortunately suffered a breakdown in the 1880s. Pennell, quoting Rennell Rodd, wrote: 'There was a poor fellow who had been a designer for Minton - but his head had given way, and he was already quite mad - used to be there day after day for months, and draw innumerable sketches on scraps of brown paper, cartidge boards, anything - often full of talent but quite mad. Well, Jimmy humoured him and made his last weeks of liberty happy in their way. Eventually he had to be removed to an asylum, and died raving mad.' It is possible that JW was involved in committing him to the asylum.


Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Sickert, Walter, 'Where Paul and I differ', Art News, no. 14, 10 February 1910, p. 113; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 5th ed., revised, London and Philadelphia, 1911; Way, Thomas Robert, Memories of James McNeill Whistler, the Artist, London and New York, 1912; 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.