Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

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Venus dates from 1868. 1 It is considered one of the 'Six Projects', which comprise Venus [YMSM 082], Symphony in Green and Violet [YMSM 083], Variations in Blue and Green [YMSM 084], Symphony in White and Red [YMSM 085], Symphony in Blue and Pink [YMSM 086], and The White Symphony: Three Girls [YMSM 087]. This group of paintings was mentioned by William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919) in his diary for 28 July 1868, when he wrote that Whistler was 'doing on a largish scale for Leyland the subject of women and flowers.' 2

Venus, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus, Freer Gallery of Art

1869/1873: Whistler wrote to William Grapel (1822-1887), 'The Venus is really scarcely to be judged of in its present wild rough hewn state.' 3 Two such subjects, the Venus under discussion here and Venus Rising from the Sea [YMSM 093], are in what Whistler might have called a 'rough hewn state.' However, it is not certain that the reference is to either of these paintings.

1876: It may be the picture described in the New York Herald as 'a superb Venus walking on the seashore, flowers springing into bloom beneath her feet.' 4

1879: Probably acquired by the London printer Thomas Way (1837-1915) at Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879 and later returned to Whistler.

1886: The art critic Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940) saw 'a sketch of a Venus, very lovely in colour and design, the nude figure standing close to the sea with delicate gauze draperies being lifted by the breeze' in Whistler's studio in June 1886. 5

1888-1892: According to the artist Sidney Starr (1857-1925):

'In his Tite Street studio Whistler had shown me some canvases, one of them a Venus in low tones of ivory and gray-blue, bathed in the warm evening after-glow, a note of red on the ivory drapery, and spoke of painting a larger canvas of it soon. He never did. The study hung some years later between the windows of his dining room in Cheyne Walk.' 6

1893: According to the Pennells, it was in Whistler's Paris house in the summer and autumn of 1893. 7

1902: Again according to the Pennells, 'the Venus' was worked on by Whistler in April 1902, but this may have been Venus [YMSM 548]. 8 However, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) noted that the 'Venus' which 'Used to be at Rue du Bac' was in Whistler's London studio in 1902. 9 Freer bought it from Whistler in July 1903.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 82).

2: Rossetti 1903 [more], p. 320.

3: [1869/1873], GUW #01792.

4: 'American Artists in London, What they have done for Philadelphia', New York Herald, New York, 10 April 1876, p. 5. Press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 2, p. 2.

5: Salaman 1886 B [more].

6: Starr 1908 [more], p. 531.

7: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, pp. 26, 138.

8: Pennell, Elizabeth Robins & Joseph, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 6th edition, revised, Philadelphia, 1920, p. 414.

9: [1902], Diaries, Bk 12, Freer Gallery of Art.

Last updated: 2nd November 2020 by Margaret