The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Robert Browning, 1812-1889

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1812
Place of Birth:
Date of Death: 1889
Place of Death:


Robert Browning was a writer and poet. He was the first child of Robert Browning, a clerk in the Bank of England and Sarah Anna Browning, a fervent evangelical Christian and accomplished pianist. In September 1846 he married the poet Elizabeth Barrett. They have a son in 1849, Robert Barrett Browning ('Pen').


Browning was educated at home and then at the University of London, but he left the latter to pursue his own course of study. In the 1830s he met the actor William Macready and attempted his first verse drama. He also began to write dramatic monologues (Paracelsus, 1835; Sordello, 1840).

In 1846 Browning and his wife eloped to Italy, where they lived until her death in 1861. It was to her that he dedicated Men and Women (1855). His wife was a more popular poet but following her death his works were received more sympathetically. His Collected Poems (1862), Dramatis Personae (1863) and The Ring and the Book (1868-9) brought rising popularity. He continued to write for a further twenty years. In 1881 the Browning Society was founded.

It has been claimed by Ralph Curtis, amongst others, that when JW arrived in Venice in September 1879 he first took rooms at the top of the Palazzo Rezzonico, which later became the property of Browning's son. However, this has been disputed.

Whilst in Venice from 1879 to 1880, JW enjoyed the hospitality of the American Katherine De Kay Bronson. Browning was also in Venice at this time and a frequent guest at the Casa Alvisi, the Venetian home of the Bronsons, and the two men became acquainted. The Pennells described their acquaintance as intimate but declared that Browning could be waspish in his sarcasm concerning the artist.

Browning was amongst those invited to a banquet at the Criterion in London on 1 May 1889 in celebration of the award of a first class medal to JW in Munich in addition to the Cross of St Michael of Bavaria.


Allen's West London Directory, London, 1869; Browning, Robert, More Than Friend: The Letters of Robert Browning to Katharine de Kay Bronson Meredith, Michael, (ed.) with the assistance of Humphrey, Rita S., Waco, Texas, c. 1985; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; MacDonald, Margaret F., Palaces in the Night Whistler in Venice, Aldershot, 2001; 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; .