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

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Coast Scene: Bathers


Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago
Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago

The medium and technique have been analysed fully by Kimberley Muir at the Art Institute of Chicago. 1 It was painted on a wooden panel, possibly alder, primed with a grey ground which was abraded, revealing the pinkish bare wood in places. The palette, according to Muir, 'includes lead white, iron oxide or earth pigments, umber, cadmium yellow, cobalt blue, emerald green, vermilion, and bone black.' 2

He worked from the ground up, painting first the beach, then the water, white waves, a darker blue horizon line, the sky, and finally the figures and sailing boat, all in a single session. A subtly coloured panel, it was fluidly painted wet-in-wet with long strokes of creamy paint for the beach, sea and sky, and tiny, precise and expressive strokes with a pointed brush for the details of figures. His brushes ranged from 10 mm wide to ca 1–2 mm for these fine details.

Conservation History

There are minor signs of damage or disturbed paint in the sea and sky at right. The edges are abraded, suggesting it was slid into a painting box while still wet, after a day's plein-air painting by the sea.

The conservation and condition of the painting are discussed by Kimberley Muir in the Art Institute of Chicago online catalogue. The painting had a thin natural resin varnish; there are minor spots of retouching but the panel is in good condition. 3


A broad frame with reeding on both sides of a flat panel. It is similar to, but not exactly like, Whistler's frames of the mid-1880s.


1: Muir, Kimberley, 'Cat. 27 Coast Scene, Bathers, 1884/85: Technical Summary,' in Whistler Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2020, URL.

2: Muir notes that the ground consisted of lead white with traces of iron oxide or earth pigments, bone black, and other calcium compounds. Muir 2020, ibid.

3: Muir 2020, op. cit.

Last updated: 3rd December 2020 by Margaret