The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Algernon Bertram Freeman Mitford, 1837-1916

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1837
Place of Birth:
Date of Death: 1916
Place of Death:


Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford of Batsford Park, Gloucestershire, and Birdhope Craig, Northumberland, was a diplomat and collector, who inherited the estates of the Earl of Redesdale in 1886. He was the third son of Henry Reveley Mitford, Exbury, Hants and Georgina Jemima, the daughter of the third Earl of Ashburnham. In 1874 he married Clementine Gertrude Helen Ogilvy, the daughter of the nineth Earl of Airlie. Together they had seven children: Frances Georgiana (b. 20 November 1875); Clement Bertram Ogilvy (b. 14 December 1876); David Bertram Ogilvy (b. 13 March 1878); Iris Elizabeth (b. 28 February 1879); Bertram Thomas Carlyle Ogilvy (b. 2 June 1880); John Power Bertram Ogilvy (b. 31 January 1881); and Joan (b. 7 December 1882).


Mitford was educated in Eton and then at Christ Church, Oxford. He entered the foreign office in 1858, and was appointed third secretary of Embassy in St Petersburg. After service in the Diplomatic Corps in Peking, went to Japan as second secretary to the British Legation. There he wrote Tales of Old Japan (1871). He resigned in 1873. From 1874-86 he acted as secretary to H. M. Office of Works and in 1882 he was elected Companion of Bath. From 1887 he was a member of the Royal Commission on Civil Services. From 1892-95 he was M.P. for South West Warwickshire.

Mitford was probably introduced to JW in 1873 through his friendship with Alan Summerly Cole [#09022]. He was a cousin of Algernon Swinburne's, another friend of JW's. According to Pennell, JW painted Mitford's portrait in 'Van Dyck costume' around 1876, Portrait of Lord Redesdale (YMSM 188). He also painted a portrait of Mitford's wife 'in draperies of Chinese blue silk', Portrait of Lady Redesdale (YMSM 189). Both paintings were slashed to pieces by Whistler to prevent them from falling into the hands of his creditors.

From 1874, Mitford and his wife lived at Lindsey Row, later moving to Cheyne Walk, near both Whistler and D. G. Rossetti. They were on good terms with JW for many years. Mitford acted as Whistler's referee when signing the lease for the site of The White House. Mitford was friendly with Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, and introduced her to Whistler in 1878. Whistler found her sympathetic when he discussed with her the problems he was having with the Board of Works [#01746]. In 1889 Mitford was amongst those invited to a dinner organised by W. C. Symons to congratulate Whistler on being made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Munich, a dinner which was to be held at the Criterion in Piccadilly on 1 May 1889 [#05635].

Mitford and Whistler shared an enthusiasm for Japanese art. Mitford however did not approve of Whistler's relationship with Charles A. Howell [#09523]. The Mitfords supported Whistler artistically. In 1883 Clementine Mitford bought one of Whistler's Venice etchings, The Doorway [#12991]. A. B. Mitford was present at Whistler's delivery of his 'Ten O'Clock Lecture' on 20 February 1885 at the Prince's Hall, Piccadilly. Clementine Mitford told Whistler that it was '"the most brilliant thing" Bertie had ever heard' and expressed her disappointment at not being present herself [#04084].

Whistler wrote to A. B. Mitford in the late 1880s, mentioning his 'wonderful horses' and asking him to look at a horse painting by his friend Wallace [#04083]. Whistler like to name-drop his friendship with Mitford, the son-in-law of the Earl of Airlie, in his letters to his acquaintances.

Around 1880 Mitford had Exbury House built for himself in Westgate-on-Sea, possibly to the designs of C. N. Beazley. He was created a Baron in 1902.


Mitford, Algernon Bertram, Tales of Old Japan, 1871; Mitford, Algernon Bertram, The Bamboo Garden, 1896; Mitford, Algernon Bertram, The Attaché at Peking, 1900; Mitford, Algernon Bertram, Memoirs, London, 1915; Mitford, Algernon Bertram, Little Memories, London, 1917.

Sir Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, 2 vols, London, 1894; Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, London, 1896; Who's Who, London, 1905; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Pennell, Joseph, and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, The Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection of Whistleriana Shown in Division of Prints, Library of Congress, Southwest Pavilion, Washington, G.P.O. Library Branch, 1921; Girouard, Mark, Sweetness and Light: The 'Queen Anne' Movement 1860-1900, Oxford, 1977; 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.