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

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Grey and Silver: Mist – Life Boat


Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Grey and silver Mist – Life Boat' (1884, Dowdeswell). 1
  • 'Gris et Argent – Le Bateau de Sauvetage' (1887/1890, Whistler). 2
  • 'Gris et argent: Mer et Pluie. Bateau de sauvetage' (1887, Petit). 3
  • 'Gris et argent – Le bateau de sauvetage' (1888, Whistler). 4
  • Probably 'Grau und Silber' (1888, III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Munich). 5
  • 'A Grey Note – The Life Boat' (1889, Wunderlich). 6
  • 'Le Bateau de sauvetage' (1890, Exposition Générale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels). 7
  • 'Grey and Silver: Mist – Life Boat' (1980, YMSM). 8

The title 'Grey and Silver: Mist – Life Boat' is based on the original 1884 title, with punctuation added to conform with other titles.


                    Grey and Silver: Mist - Life Boat, Freer Gallery of Art
Grey and Silver: Mist - Life Boat, Freer Gallery of Art

A seascape in horizontal format. In the foreground, at left, two shawled women with white aprons over their skirts stand talking on the beach, while out at sea, to left of centre, a small life boat is being rowed out into a calm sea. At far left is the end of a pier, with a small sailing boat (probably a fishing boat) beside it.


This was painted at St Ives, Cornwall, between January and March 1884, and probably, given the weather, towards the end of this period. The same view is seen in The Pier: A Grey Note [YMSM 286]: both were painted by the harbour. 9

The lifeboat station was based in Fore Street (it was used until 1911). A local guide states: 'On the shore, near the church, is the boat house of the St. Ives lifeboat, which goes to sea for practice once a month. Its exercise is well worth seeing.' 10 So Whistler's painting probably represents the practice rather than a rescue mission.


1: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 54).

2: Label on verso.

3: Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1887 (cat. no. 199).

4: List, [June 1888], GUW #04203.

5: III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1888 (cat. no. 60).

6: “Notes” – “Harmonies” – “Nocturnes”, H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, 1889 (cat. no. 29).

7: Exposition Générale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1890 (cat. no. 843).

8: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 287).

9: Robins 2007 [more] , pp. 13, 14, 182 n.15. See also Gilbert, Henry, Roy Ray, and Colin Orchard, All About St. Ives: A Guide to the Town, its Galleries and Art History, [St Ives], 2006, p. 9.

10: Matthews, John Hobson, A guide to St. Ives and its surroundings – scenery curiosities antiquities history and traditions, James Wearne, St Ives, 1884, at (acc. 2015).

Last updated: 2nd April 2021 by Margaret