The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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John Birnie Philip, 1824-1875

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1824.11.23
Place of Birth: London
Date of Death: 1875.03.02
Place of Death: London


John Birnie Philip, a sculptor, was the father-in-law of JW. He was the son of William Philip, a taylor. On 4 June 1853 he married Frances Philip, née Black, the daughter of John Black, a clerk.

In the 1871 census the Birnie Philip household consisted of John B. Philip, aged 46, sculptor; Frances, his wife, aged 45; Constance, aged 17, an art student; and several younger children, Beatrice, then 13; Ethel, 9; Phllippe [sic] M., 5; Frances S., 3; and John F., 1, plus one elderly servant, Sarah Waring, aged 71 from Canterbury.

Altogether they had ten children: Constance (b. 1854), Beatrix (b. 1857), Edith (b. 1859), Ethel (b. 1861), Jane Bertha (b. 1864), Philippa Maude (b. 1865), Frances Septima (b. 1867), John Francis (b. 1869), Ronald Murray (b. 1871) and Rosalind Birnie (b. 1873).


Philip studied at the Government School of Design at Somerset House in London under J. R. Herbert. From 1852 until his death he carried out ornamental stone carving for Sir George Gilbert Scott. From 1868 to 1869 he executed eight statues of monarchs for the Royal Gallery in the Palace of Westminster. He is best known for his podium frieze of sculptors and architects commissoned for the Albert Memorial (1864-72; Hyde Park, London). However, his career was cut short by an early death.

Philip's daughter Beatrix married the Aesthetic Movement architect and designer E. W. Godwin in 1876, before marrying JW in 1888, subsequent to Godwin's death in 1886. His daughter Rosalind acted as companion, model, secretary and house keeper for JW after Beatrix's death, and was appointed JW's executrix at his death. Ethel married the American journalist and writer Charles Whibley in 1894. Ronald was a civil engineer who in 1900-1 accompanied JW on a trip to Gibraltar, Algiers, Tangiers, Marseilles and Corsica. Beatrix, Ethel, Ronald and Rosalind all acted as models at different times for JW.

Not only Philip's children but, after the death of Beatrix, his wife Frances was very much a part of JW's life, she and her daughter Rosalind keeping house for the artist. She also posed for JW.


Uk census 1871; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; 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; Walkley, Giles, Artists' houses in London 1764-1914, Aldershot, 1994; Stocker, Mark, 'John Birnie Philip', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 20 February 2003).