In 1894 Sir William Eden engaged James McNeil Whistler to paint a small portrait of Lady Eden. Eden paid on Valentine’s Day and referred to his check as a valentine to Whistler.
Annoyed by Eden’s condescending attitude, Whistler cashed the check but didn’t deliver the painting. Naturally the Edens sued, whereupon Whistler returned the money but kept the portrait.
Then Whistler made certain that the portrait could never be delivered by scraping Lady Eden off, replacing her with an American sitter. When the court found for the Edens and ordered Whistler to deliver the portrait and pay damages, he appealed - twice. Two appeals later the original verdict was overturned and a precedent in French law was set - that a painting belongs to the artist until it is delivered.
Whistler signed his work with a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger for a tail signifying his delicate style yet petulant personality.
The case took nine years. The Baronet and the Butterfly is Whistler's delicious rendition of the whole affair.