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

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The Coast of Brittany

The Coast of Brittany is signed and dated '1861'. It dates from the autumn of 1861. 1

In early June 1861 Whistler fell 'dreadfully ill with Rheumatic fever.' 2 He was nursed by his half-sister, Deborah Delano Haden (1825-1908), and family, in Sloane Street, London, advised by the family doctor, James Reeves Traer (1833-1867). By 25 July Whistler was much better and told his mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), that he planned to recuperate by the sea; she replied. 'I hope yr old friend "Sea Side" will soon establish the cure.' 3

It is not clear if he left immediately, but in mid-October George du Maurier (1834-1896) mentioned that 'Jimmy' was on the Côtes-du-Nord. 4 According to Whistler's mother he convalesced on the coast of Brittany, 'sea bathing recovering his health' for nearly three months. 5 This would have been perfectly reasonable in September 1861 but unwise in November! He may have returned via London, or travelled directly to Paris. He was certainly back in Paris by mid-November 1861. 6

                The Coast of Brittany, Wadsworth Atheneum
The Coast of Brittany, Wadsworth Atheneum

On 23 November 1861 Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) wrote to Edwin Edwards (1823-1879) that Whistler had been back in Paris a couple of weeks, 'il a fait un tableau qu'il ne veut montrer que nettoyé et encadré, oh! Barnum.' 7 A month later the painting was apparently ready to be displayed: under the title 'Seule', it arrived on 26 December 1861 in the Boulevard des Italiens for exhibition by the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. 8


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 37).

2: Letter from George du Maurier to his sister Isabel, dated from a reference to the recent Crystal Palace Rose Show of 6 July 1861. Du Maurier 1951 [more] , p. 56.

3: 19 August 1861, GUW #06517.

4: Letter to his mother, Mrs du Maurier, dating from shortly after 12 October 1861, Du Maurier 1951 [more] , p.84.

5: Letter to J. W. Gamble, 19 February 1862, GUW #06518.

6: D. Louncke to Whistler, 14 November 1861, GUW #02638.

7: Translation: 'he has done a painting that he does not wish to show until it is cleaned and framed, oh! Barnum.' Copy of letter, Bibliothèque Municipale, Grenoble. Fantin-Latour means Whistler was a showman, like P. T. Barnum.

8: Receipt signed by Ernest Gilloneau or Guilloneau, secretary to the Beaux-Arts Exposition, 26 Boulevard des Italiens, GUW #01664.

Last updated: 4th June 2021 by Margaret