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

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A Red Note: FĂȘte on the Sands, Ostend

A Red Note: Fête on the Sands, Ostend may have been painted at Ostend in Belgium in the summer of 1887, during events related to Queen Victoria's Jubilee. 1

Jubilee celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) included a service at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday, 21 June 1887, which Whistler attended, as President of the Society of British Artists. His etching The Abbey Jubilee [296] shows the event. 2

                A Red Note: Fête on the Sands, Ostend, Terra Foundation for American Art
A Red Note: Fête on the Sands, Ostend, Terra Foundation for American Art

Whistler also attended Queen Victoria's Naval Review, which was held at Spithead on 23 July. The Terra Foundation website suggests that the painting dates from shortly after the Naval Review:

'A Red Note: Fête on the Sands, Ostend shows a festive crowd gathered on the beach at the Belgian seaport to greet their monarchs, Leopold II and Queen Clementine, on their return from Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee celebration in England. The sketchy scene of a mass of people on the beach under an overcast sky is thinly painted in drab colors relieved by the shapes of large flags. On the far left, the black, yellow, and red banner of Belgium is partly obscured by a blue flag bearing the fleur-de-lis, probably a reference to Queen Clementine’s French descent; on the right, the “red note” of James McNeill Whistler’s title is provided by the Red Ensign, the British naval flag, which was flown at that time from merchant ships.' 3

However, Whistler returned to London after the Review, and in August 1887 he was occupied with printing his Naval Review etchings. Over sixty impressions had been printed by 19 August, and most of the edition was completed by 1 September. 4 It was only after this that Whistler is recorded as going over to Ostend and Brussels, where he was staying at the Hotel Continental on 11 September. 5

The evidence is not conclusive, but it is possible that this painting actually dates from September rather than July or early August 1887. The painting was exhibited shortly afterwards at the Royal Society of British Artists in their 1887-1888 winter show.


1: Dated 'Probably ... autumn 1887' in YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 366).

2: Xavier Tricot comments that the English industrialist 'Cottars' took his workforce (230 men, women and children) on a day trip from Roubaix to Ostend on Jubilee day, 21 June 1887, and this was the subject of Whistler's painting. This is not possible since Whistler was in England on that date. See Tricot, Xavier, in Hommage Robert Hooze 1982-2014, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent, 2014, pp. 130-33.

3: Terra Foundation for American Art website at

4: Listed by Whistler, [18-23 August 1887], GUW #13234.

5: Tricot 2014, op. cit. See also W. Dowdeswell to William Ayerst Ingram, 15 September 1887, GUW #11320.

Last updated: 31st March 2021 by Margaret