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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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1st September 2003 - A Family Of Collectors

The shipping owner and art collector Alexander Constantine Ionides was born on this day in 1810.

Ionides emigrated to Britain as a child from Greece, and by 1827 Alexander had settled in Manchester, having changing his surname from Ipliktzis to Ionides. He took over the family firm of merchants and stockbrokers when he was twenty, and by 1830 was listed as 'Ionides Co., Merchants' based at the famous premises of 9 Finsbury Circus, London. His home from 1867 at 1 Holland Park became a gathering place for diplomats, church leaders, artists, writers and musicians. It was decorated by Philip Webb, William Morris and Walter Crane. Whistler became a frequent visitor in the 1850s after meeting Ionides' sons Luke and Alexander in Paris.

As an art collector, Alexander's taste was for Aesthetic movement art, and he was an important friend and patron to many artists including Watts, Poynter, Rossetti and Whistler. Ionides commissioned paintings such as Portrait of Luke A. Ionides (YMSM 32) and Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge (YMSM 33). He also owned Sea and Rain (YMSM 65), and Arrangement in Grey: Portrait of the Painter (YMSM 122).

After Alexander Constantine Ionides had retired to Hastings in 1875 (where Anna Matilda Whistler had also gone into retirement), his son Alexander ('Aleco') presided over the family home. However, relations between Whistler and Aleco turned sour when in the 1890s the value of Whistler's paintings rose; particularly offensive to Whistler was the sale for £700 of a picture which had originally only won for the artist £50. In characteristic fashion, Whistler wrote of his annoyance in a letter:

"it is intolerable that all of you in England should under my nose, in this sly way - turn these pictures of mine over & over again, & without a word to me pocket sums that properly you should offer to me on your bended knees..."

(GUL MS Whistler I104)