Henry and his brother Walter Greaves were boatmen, apprenticed to their father Charles William Greaves, a Chelsea boat-builder and waterman. They had two sisters Eliza and Alice ('Tinnie') Fay who later acted as models for them and JW.
The Greaves brothers met JW in 1863 and became his studio assistants. Walter Greaves recalled, 'We used to get ready his colours and canvasses, prepare the grey distemper ground which he so liked working upon, and painted the mackerel-back pattern on the frames.' During the 1870s, they would also row him up and down the Thames as he worked, as their father had rowed Turner before them. 'He taught us to paint, and we taught him the waterman's jerk', declared Walter Greaves. The Greaves lived a few doors from JW, at 9 Lindsey Row. JW on occasion would invite the whole family to dinner [#11454]. Their friendship lasted for about twenty years.
Both of the Greaves brothers attended M. Barthe's life classes at Limerston Street in Chelsea in the company of JW, and would also join him on drawing expeditions. Their own individual style of drawing, and also dress and manner, was submerged under the dominating influence of JW. Walter, who was later accused of plagiarism by the Pennells, painted a portrait of his brother Henry, Sketch for a Portrait of Henry Greaves (YMSM 198). According to the Pennells, Walter Greaves told them that JW had helped him and his brother paint a portrait of Thomas Carlyle. In 1876 the Greaves brothers helped JW to lay on the gold for his Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (YMSM 178).
UK census 1881 (accessed 2004.03) from http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/frameset_search.asp?PAGE=census/search_census.asp; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Wood, Christopher, Dictionary of Victorian Artists, Woodbridge, 1971; 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.