The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Philip Henry Rathbone, 1828-1895

Nationality: British
Date of Birth: 1828
Place of Birth:
Date of Death: 1895
Place of Death:


Philip Henry Rathbone of Green Bank Cottage, Green Bank Road, Liverpool, was a collector, Justice of the Peace and underwriter and loss adjuster for the insurance company, Rathbone, Martin and Co. He was the son of a wealthy family of Nonconformist and Radical Liverpool merchants. He married Jane Stringer Steward (1833-1905) and had two sons, Alfred Steward Rathbone, a poet, and Edgar Philip Rathbone, a mining engineer.


From 1867 until his death in 1895 Rathbone was a Liberal member of the Liverpool Town Council and a member of the Committee of the Free Public Library, Museum, Gallery of Arts and Education. He was a founding member of the Liverpool Art Club, becoming its President in 1878; Treasurer and Chairman of the Arts and Exhibitions Sub-Committee of the Liverpool Corporation; and Deputy Chairman of the Libraries, Museums and Arts Committee. In 1885 he played a key role in the establishment of a professorship in art at Liverpool University and in 1888 in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Art and its Application to Industry. He was a prolific writer and well known for his Bohemian dress, absent mindedness and morally superior attitude, although his views on community art and education were very much influenced by John Ruskin and William Morris.

In 1877 Rathbone was on the Hanging Committee of the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition, the first in the Walker Art Gallery. Much of its success was due to him. He was unique in that he sat on the hanging or executive committee for the Walker's exhibitions from its inception in 1871 to 1895. It was largely a result of his efforts that the Walker, unlike any other public collection in Britain, acquired so many contemporary foreign paintings. He was willing to be controversial, supporting the purchase of Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Sculptor's Model, Maurice William Greiffenhagen's Idyll, Edward Atkinson Hornel's Spring and Giovanni Segantini's Punishment of Luxury.

As Chairman of the Liverpool Arts Committee in 1891, he was in contact with many well known artists of his day including JW, writing to them and visiting their studios. In 1891 JW agreed to join Rathbone, Arthur Melville, W. B. Boadle, John H. Ward, Charles Dyall and H. Frazer on the Hanging Committee of the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition (#06007). Rathbone admired the work of JW and was in favour of Liverpool buying Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket (YMSM 181) but didn't think he could persuade the city council to spend £1700 (#05595).

Rathbone also got on well socially with JW. Instructed by Rathbone, in 1891 Alfred Rathbone bashfully sent JW a book of his verse, collected and privately printed by his father, entitled Varying moods expressed in various verse (#05106). Francis Prange wrote to JW in 1892: 'Rathbones with whom I spent Sunday in Liverpool were full of your & your wife's kindness to them' (#05026).

Rathbone's tastes as a private collector were eclectic. He owned Albert Moore's The Shulamite, which hung in his diningroom. JW described it as 'simply charming' (#06595). He also owned a group of early Italian paintings, a painting by the Master of Frankfurt and Alphonse Legros' The Pilgrimage, which he bequeathed to the Walker.


UK Census 1881 in (accessed 31 March 2004); Edward Morris, 'Philip Henry Rathbone and the purchase of contemporary foreign paintings for the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1871-1914', Walker Art Gallery Liverpool Annual Report and Bulletin, vol. 6, 1975-76, pp. 59-81; Edward Morris, Victorian and Edwardian Paintings in the Walker Art Gallery and at Sudley House, London, 1996.