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


Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville


Whistler gave it to G. J. Cavafy, who had bought several of his paintings (The Last of Old Westminster [YMSM 039], Battersea Reach [YMSM 045], Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony [YMSM 056]), before about 1878 when Whistler had the painting cleaned and restored and decorated the frame. However, he then complained vigorously to the owner's son, John Cavafy (1839-1901), 'I gave the picture to your Father! absolutely was young enough and foolish enough to make a present of it! ... the right thing to do would be simply this - Give me back my picture - you have had it quite long enough.' 1

Cavafy's pictures were for sale at the Goupil Gallery in June 1892. Cavafy was prepared to accept £600.0.0 cash for all four (this painting, The Last of Old Westminster [YMSM 039], Battersea Reach [YMSM 045], and Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony [YMSM 056]). When Goupil failed to sell them, and despite an offer by John Chandler Bancroft (1835-1901), they were bought by E. G. Kennedy of Wunderlich & Co., New York, for £650, and he agreed to return 'Sea and Sand' (Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 064]) to Whistler. 2

Despite having ruthlessly helped to sell the picture, Whistler criticised Cavafy's 'rabid greed' in selling it, 'for in his indecent haste he has parted with the works for only a quarter of what they will at once fetch!' 3 Failing to sell 'Sea & Sand' through Durand-Ruel in Paris for 600 guineas, Whistler was prepared to sell it to E. G. Kennedy and apologised for making the 'inexcusable mistake', of offering it first to Durand-Ruel. 4 However, by the end of October 1892 it had been sold to Americans visiting Paris, and Whistler invited Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) to see 'La marine de Trouville - avec Courbet sur la plage' in his studio in Paris, and meet the Americans who had bought it. 5

One source says that James Rennell Rodd (1858-1941) took Isabella Stewart Gardner to see the picture, another, that she took the American ambassador Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, jr (1863-1912) to support her when she wished to acquire the painting. 6 The Gardner Museum website adds a version of the story of the purchase:

'She fell in love with the picture when she saw it in Whistler’s Paris studio. The artist reluctantly agreed that she could have it, but showed no signs of relinquishing it to her. Impatient, Mrs. Gardner returned with a friend whom she had coached in advance. She told the artist: “That’s my picture … you’ve said many times I could have it, Mr. Whistler, and now I’m going to take it.” Her companion took the painting and started out, followed by Mrs. Gardner, who blocked the way as Whistler followed, complaining that the picture was not finished because he had not signed it. Mrs. Gardner refused to listen, inviting the artist to lunch at her hotel, where he could then sign the picture.' 7

Mrs Gardner agreed to buy it for 600 guineas; then she returned the picture to Whistler so that it could be signed and on 4 December 1892 wrote to ask if she could bring the cheque and collect the picture, adding pointedly, 'Both have to be signed, you know!' 8


  • 1898: Loan Exhibition of Pictures by Modern Painters, Copley Society, Boston, 1898 (cat. no. 90) as 'Courbet on the Beach'.

It has been suggested that it was also the 'Harmonie en bleu et argent' exhibited in Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 101st exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1883 (cat. no. 4) but this seems unlikely, since a description of 'Harmonie en bleu et argent' makes no mention of the conspicuous figure. The description ('Mer bleue où se mirent les nuages, azur du ciel, ainsi que l'argent des autres nuages dans les vagues qui viennent lécher la plage. Effet encore tendre' 9 ) is more applicable to Sea and Rain [YMSM 065] or Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 066].


1: Whistler to J. Cavafy, [July/October 1878], GUW #00549.

2: J. Cavafy to Whistler, 7 June 1892, GUW #00783; Whistler to Cavafy, [8 June 1892, GUW #00565; Cavafy to J. & R. McCracken, 10 June 1892, GUW #00562; Cavafy to J. C. Bancroft, 10 June 1892, GUW #00784; Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 10-11 June 1892, GUW #09680.

3: Whistler to H. E. Whistler, [7 August 1892], GUW #06718; see also Whistler to J. Cavafy, 14 August 1892, GUW #00566.

4: Whistler to Kennedy, [20 October / 10 November 1892], GUW #09700.

5: Whistler to S. Mallarmé, [25 October 1892], GUW #03849.

6: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 2, pp. 129-30; Carter 1925 [more] , p. 135.

7: Website at; see also Aileen Tsui, 'Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville,' in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al., Boston, 2003, pp. 198-99.

8: Whistler to J. L. Gardner, receipt, 10 November 1892, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum records; J. L. Gardner to Whistler, 30 November 1892, GUW #01645; I. S. Gardner to Whistler, 4 December 1892, GUW #01642.

9: [1883], unidentified press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 7, p. 15.

Last updated: 26th November 2020 by Margaret