Ronald Murray Philip, a civil engineer, was the son of the sculptor John Birnie Philip and Frances Black. He was the ninth of ten children. His older sister Beatrix married the Aesthetic Movement architect and designer E. W. Godwin in 1876 and then married Whistler in 1888, following Godwin's death in 1886. His sister Rosalind was appointed Whistler's executrix at his death.
Ronald Murray Philip worked as a civil engineer for many years in Newfoundland, developing roads, dams and general infrastructure in remote and isolated areas. Unfortunately his wife died there, and he returned with his young daughter to Britain. He died suddenly at his home, The Manor, Stirling, in 1940.
On 15 December 1900 when Whistler's ill health had become serious, he was ordered away to sea, and set off for Gibraltar. Philip joined him. Together they spent Christmas and New Year in Algiers and Tangiers. Whistler found it very cold and 'entirely too Eastern'. They then went to Marseilles where Whistler was ill for three weeks, and then they sailed for Corsica, where they stayed in the Hotel Schweizerhof, Ajaccio, and did many sketches and a number of etchings and paintings, including A Corsican Child (YMSM 544), A Distant Dome (YMSM 545) and Ajaccio, Corsica (YMSM 546). Philip left in mid-February and was replaced by William Heinemann and a friend who arrived in March for a couple of weeks.
Ronald Philip was a similar age to Whistler's son Charles Hanson and Beatrice's son Edward Godwin, and Whistler treated him like a favourite nephew. He painted his portrait in oils around 1898-1900, Portrait of Ronald Murray Philip (YMSM 534), and also made a number of pencil drawings around 1900/01, including Ronald Philip sitting in an armchair (M.1636), Ronald Philip (M.1637), A man reading (M.1638), Portrait of Ronald Philip (M.1639) and The Fellow Traveller (Portrait of Ronald Philip) (M.1640).
Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Times, London, 13 February 1940, p. 1; 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.