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


Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville


Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Courbet - on sea shore' (1892, Whistler). 1
  • 'Sea and Sand' (1892, J. Cavafy). 2
  • 'Sea and Sand' (1892, Whistler). 3
  • 'the Courbet' (1892, B. Whistler). 4
  • 'La marine de Trouville - avec Courbet sur la plage' (1892, Whistler). 5
  • 'Harmony in Blue and Silver, Trouville' (1892, Whistler). 6
  • 'Courbet on the Beach' (1898, Copley Society, Boston). 7
  • 'Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville' (1980, YMSM) 8

The title 'Harmony in Blue and Silver, Trouville' was given by Whistler in his receipt for payment of this painting in November 1892, although in his letter to E. G. Kennedy of 10 June 1892 he referred to it as 'Sea and Sand'. The punctuation has been amended to conform with other titles, and thus the preferred title is 'Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville'.


                    Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

A beach scene, in horizontal format. At lower left, a man in an overcoat looks across the wide beach to the pale blue sea. The clouds are a pale blue/grey. There are two sailing boats far out on the sea.


The town and port of Trouville on the coast of France.

Whistler painted several pictures at Trouville, including Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 064], Sea and Rain [YMSM 065], Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 066], Crepuscule in Opal: Trouville [YMSM 067], Green and Grey. Channel [YMSM 069], and Trouville [YMSM 070].


Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet (1819-1877). Years later he remembered,

'la mer où nous prenions des bains sur la plage gelée ... la cotelette au déjeuner ce qui nous permettait ensuite de peindre l'espace la mer et les poissons jusqu'à l'horizon, nous nous sommes payés du rêve et de l'espace.' 9

Translation: 'the sea where we took baths in the freezing sea ... the cutlet at lunch which let us paint together the space, the sea and fish to the horizon, we paid ourselves with dreams and space.'

The painting was listed by Whistler as 'Courbet - on sea shore' in 1892. 10 It shows Courbet at Trouville, and was further identified by Whistler in 1895 as 'The only painting by me of Courbet'. 11

Whistler and Courbet worked together at Trouville in the autumn of 1865, and in a letter to his father of 17 November 1865 Courbet referred to Whistler as his pupil. 12 However, in an important letter in 1867 Whistler told Fantin-Latour that Courbet's influence had been very bad, though he admired Courbet's work:

'Courbet! et son influence a été dégoutant! le regret que je sens et la rage la haine même que j'ai pour cela maintenant t'étonerait peutêtre mais voiçi l'explication - Ce n'est pas le pauvre Courbet qui me repugne, ni ces peintures oeuvres non plus. J'en reconnais comme toujours les qualités - Je ne me plains pas non plus de l'influence de sa peinture sur la mienne - il n'y en a pas eu, et on n'en trouvera pas dans mes toiles - Ca ne pouvait pas être; parce que je suis bien personel et que j'ai été riche en qualités qu'il n'avait pas et qui me suffisaient - Mais voici pourquoi tout cela à été bien pernicieuse pour moi - C'est que ce damné Realisme faisait apel immediate à ma vanité de peintre! et se moquant de toutes les traditions criait tout haut, avec l'assurance de l'ignorance "Vive la Nature!!" la nature! Mon cher ce cri là a été un grand malheur pour moi! - Où pouvait on trouver un apotre plus pret à accepter cette théorie, si commode pour lui! ce calmant pour toute inquietude! - Quoi? il n'avait plus qu'à ouvrir ses yeux et peindre ce qui se trouvait devant lui! la belle nature et tout le bataclan! ce n'était que ca! et bien on allait voir!

Et l'on a vu ... Les Tamises - les vues de mer . . . . des toiles enfin produit par un polisson qui se gonflait de vanité de pouvoir montrer aux peintres des dons splendides - des qualités qui ne demandaient qu'une education sevère pour faire de leur possesseur un maitre au moment qu'il est - et non un écolier débauché.' 13

Free translation: 'Courbet! and his influence was disgusting! the regret I feel and the rage, hate even, I feel for all that now would astonish you perhaps but this is the explanation. It's not poor Courbet whom I find loathsome, any more than his paintings - As always I recognize the qualities they have - I am not complaining either about the influence of his painting on mine - there was none, and you will not find it in my canvases - There couldn't be; because I am too personal and I had many qualities that he did not have but which suited me well - But this is the reason why all that was so bad for me. That damned Realism made an immediate appeal to my vanity as a painter! and mocking all tradition cried out loud, with all the confidence of ignorance, "Long live Nature!!" nature! My dear fellow, that cry was a great misfortune for me! - Where could you have found an apostle more ready to accept this theory, so appealing to him! this remedy for all disquiet - What? All he had to do was to open his eyes and paint what was there in front of him! beautiful nature and the whole caboodle! that was all there was to it! and then people went to see it!

And they saw ... the Thames pictures - the seascapes ... canvases produced by a nobody puffed up with pride at showing off his splendid gifts to other painters - qualities which only required strict education to make their owner the master he really is - not a degenerate student.'


1: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

2: J. Cavafy to Whistler, 7 June 1892, GUW #00783.

3: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 10-11 June 1892, GUW #09680.

4: B. Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [22 October/November 1892], GUW #09703.

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

6: 30 November 1892, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Archives.

7: Loan Exhibition of Pictures by Modern Painters, Copley Society, Boston, 1898 (cat. no. 90).

8: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 64).

9: 14 February 1877, GUW #00695.

10: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

11: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [24 April 1895], GUW #08304.

12: Riat, Georges, Gustave Courbet, Paris, 1906, pp. 228-29.

13: [June/July 1867], GUW #08045. Formerly dated [September 1867?]; however, it was probably written shortly after the Royal Academy exhibition.

Last updated: 26th November 2020 by Margaret