Bessie ('Hetty' or 'Harriet') Pettigrew was a professional model in London. She was the oldest daughter of William Pettigrew, a cork cutter, and Harriet Davis, a needleworker: they had married in 1853 and had thirteen children in all. Hetty's younger sisters Rose Amy and Lily were also models.
Hetty came to London around 1884 when she was just fifteen years old. She and her sisters first posed for John Everett Millais' An Idyll of 1745 (Lady Lever Art Gallery) in 1884. Millais described them as 'three little gypsies... with the characteristic carelessness of their race, they just came when they liked'. The three girls also posed for Rudolph Onslow Ford, William Holman Hunt, Frederic Leighton, Edward Poynter, Val Prinsep, John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert and Philip Wilson Steer.
Hetty, like her sisters, posed for Whistler. Around 1890 Whistler painted Hetty's portrait, Portrait of Hetty Pettigrew (YMSM 435), and also composed a number of pastels of her. The Arabian (M.1273), modelled on Hetty, was one of Whistler's most erotic drawings. Rose described Hetty as having 'soft straight hair, like a burnished chestnut, glorious skin, and big hazel eyes'. She also describes her sister as having a cruel wit and in this way being Whistler's 'perfect match'. Hetty later became a sculptor and exhibited for a number of years.
Finlay, Ian Hamilton, Avenue Studios, Fulham Road : Rose Pettigrew, Dunsyre, 1990; Laughton, Bruce, Philip Wilson Steer, 1860-1942, Oxford, 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; MacDonald, Margaret, 'Pettigrew sisters', in Jiminez, Jill Berk (ed.), Dictionary of Artists' Models, Chicago, 2001.