About this artwork

A giant of nineteenth-century thought, Thomas Carlyle was the son of a stone-mason and was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire. After graduating from Edinburgh University, he began to produce the articles, translations, essays and histories which were to make him world-famous. Carlyle and his gifted wife Jane lived in London, and their home in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, became a place of pilgrimage for intellectuals from all over Europe. Greaves was a neighbour and made the studies for this portrait while Carlyle was sitting for James McNeil Whistler.

Walter Greaves

Walter Greaves

Walter Greaves was the son of a London boat-builder and trained as a shipwright. In 1863 Greaves met Whistler, who taught Walter and his brother, Henry, to paint. Greaves and Whistler remained close friends for over twenty years until Whistler, whose popularity was rising, surrounded himself with a new circle of friends. Greaves then found it impossible to sell his work. In 1911 Greaves's work was exhibited at the Goupil Galleries, but it was not long before Whistler's biographers accused Greaves of plagiarism. This condemned him to obscurity for the rest of his life.