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


Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'A Red Note: Fête on the Sands, Ostend' (1887, Royal Society of British Artists). 1
  • 'Note rouge – La Plage d'Ostende' (1888, Durand-Ruel). 2
  • 'Ostende' (1890, Exposition Générale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels). 3
  • 'The Fete on the Sands – Ostend' (1904, Copley Society, Boston). 4
  • 'A Red Note: Fête on the Sands, Ostend' (1980, YMSM). 5

For the sake of consistency with other titles, 'A Red Note: Fête on the Sands, Ostend' is the preferred title.


                    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

A beach scene in horizontal format. A crowd of figures are gathered all along the shore on a grey day, carrying several huge flags. The flags include the Belgian flag at left, a blue flag bearing a golden flower, and a British naval flag, the 'Red Ensign'. On the horizon, at right is a large ship, possibly a warship.

The Terra website suggests that the blue flag bears a fleur-de-lis but if so it is very misshapen. It also suggests links between Whistler and the nationalities represented by the flags:

'The painting thus commemorates the expatriate American artist’s relationship to his two adoptive countries, England and France, between which he divided his long career. Moreover, the work’s title, one of many by which the artist drew an analogy between painting and music, announces the primacy of simple color over narrative or imposed meaning as the painting’s subject. A Red Note: Fête on the Sands, Ostend was included in one of a series of solo exhibitions Whistler pointedly titled "Notes" – "Harmonies" – "Nocturnes", in which the Terra Foundation’s A Note in Red: The Siesta ... was also shown.' 6


The beach at Ostend, one of the main fishing and ferry ports in Belgium, and a popular tourist destination.


1: 64th Annual Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1887 (cat. no. 277).

2: Exposition Brown, Boudin, Caillebotte, Lepine, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Whistler, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1888 (cat. no. 43).

3: Exposition Générale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1890 (cat. no. 842).

4: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 2).

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 366).

6: Terra Foundation for American Art website at

Last updated: 31st March 2021 by Margaret