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

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Grey and Silver: Mist – Life Boat

Technique


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

One of the most elegant and painterly of Whistler's panels, painted in a subtle and restricted range of grey greens. The silvery white at the prow of the life boat is echoed at the water's edge, and in the women's aprons. The touch of rust-red on the life boat is picked up in one woman's shawl and in the butterfly ̶ an example of Whistler's use of his signature to co-ordinate the colour scheme. 1

Anna Greutzner Robins suggests that Whistler was frustrated by the subject 'where the descriptive elements and the painted effect fight for attention':

'Washes of liquid grey applied in flowing horizontal strokes across the wooden panel establish the sky, harbour and the curving form of the front. A low horizontal wedge of a fishing [sic] boat floats across the surface and two women anchor the shoreline. The horizontal strokes of grey mark out the sky, sea and shore but the physical tangibility of the brushwork overrides any other function. A boat returns in the mist from the sea, the two women stand with their backs to the sea, unable to participate in a narrative moment that the Newlyn painters exploited a few years later.' 2

Conservation History

Freer Gallery conservation files record that the varnish was removed in 1921 and it was cleaned and resurfaced in the following year; it was cleaned and varnished again in 1937 and resurfaced in 1938, and again cleaned and surfaced in 1951.

Frame


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

It is in a replica Dowdeswell frame made by W. Lewin, America, 2004. 3

Notes:

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

2: Robins 2007 [more] , pp. 13-14.

3: Dr S. L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more] .

Last updated: 2nd April 2021 by Margaret