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

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Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay


Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay may have been the painting promised to William Grapel (1822-1887) when finished, as Whistler told Alfred Chapman on 22 July 1874. 1

However, according to Ward, it was first offered to Sir Thomas Sutherland (1834-1922) for 700 guineas, and subsequently acquired (according to Ward, 'commissioned') by 'Capt.' Henry Hill, of Brighton (former Bond Street tailor). 2 Hill owned it by 1875 when he lent it to an exhibition in Brighton. After Hill's death, it was sold at Christie's, 25 May 1889 (lot 80) and bought by Alexander Ionides for £67.4.0. In 1892 several collectors, including Bertha Honoré Palmer (1849-1918), were interested in buying it, and by the end of May the Goupil Gallery reported to Whistler, 'The Valparaiso has been bought by one of our English Customers together with other pictures and an exchange, we paying Mr Ionides £300.' 3

Six years later George McCulloch bought it from Sir John Day, and lent it to the ISSPG in 1898 (cat. no. 183). 4 In the following year, 1899, Whistler thought that McCulloch intended to sell it (he confused it with Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea [YMSM 105]), and wrote to the Scottish collector John James Cowan (1846-1936), 'the "Nocturne Valparaiso" - very beautiful certainly - but so they all are in time ! ... this Valparaiso Nocturne, has belonged to several - sold over and again - the last owner was Mr. McCullough [sic] - the rich man from somewhere.' 5 However, McCulloch had not sold it; after his death on 12 December 1907 it passed to his widow. Finally it was bought by C. L. Freer of Detroit in 1909 for £3000. 6


  • 1875: Second Annual Exhibition of Modern Pictures in Oil and Water Colour, Royal Pavilion Gallery, Brighton, 1875 (cat. no. 158) as 'Nocturne in blue and silver'.
  • 1887: 64th Annual Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1887 (cat. no. 156) as 'Nocturne in blue and gold: Valparaiso Bay'.
  • 1890: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 105th exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris 1890 (cat. no. 2439) as 'Nocturne en bleu et argent'.
  • 1892: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 28) as 'Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Valparaiso'.
  • 1893: Sixty-third Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1893 (cat. no. 9) as 'Nocturne, Valparaiso'.
  • 1893: World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893 (cat. no. 787) as 'Nocturne, Valparaiso.
  • 1898: A Collection of Selected Works by Painters of the English, French & Dutch Schools, Goupil Gallery, London, 1898 (cat. no. 21) as 'Nocturne – Valparaiso'.
  • 1898: Exhibition of International Art, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Knightsbridge, London, 1898 (cat. no. 183) as 'Blue and Gold – Valparaiso Nocturne'.
  • 1904: 78th Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 1904 (cat. no. 294).
  • 1905: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 'Valparaiso, Nocturne' and 'Blue and Gold, Valparaiso, Nocturne' (cat. no. 16) in ordinary and deluxe edition respectively.

'Capt.' Henry Hill, of Brighton (former Bond Street tailor), lent it to the Brighton exhibition in 1875.

At the Royal Society of British Artists in 1887 it was commended by the art critic of Truth, 'Of Mr. Whistler's own pictures, I infinitely prefer his “Nocturne in blue and gold, Valparaiso Bay", an effective night-scene, with a crowded quay and shadowy vessels, lit up by masthead lights.' 7 Marion Henry Alexander Spielmann (1858-1948) called it 'an extremely beautiful and subtle night- piece, an alluring vision of transpicuous darkness and infinite aerial space.' 8 Other art critics gave it brief, and sometimes favourable, notices. According to the Hampstead and Highgate Express of 9 April 1887, it contained 'many touches of beauty', while the Tablet of 23 April described it as a tour de force. 9

Alexander Ionides lent the painting to the Paris Salon in 1890 where it was well hung, and much admired by Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926).

'une jetée s'avance au-dessus d'une eau d'un bleu pâle. Des personnages vont et viennent, ils sont d'un noir transparent, leurs vêtements plus clairs sont des taches livides. Ils bougent réellement, ils se silhouettent en ombres mouvantes. Sur l'eau, des bateaux se profilent en coques et en mâtures, striés de feux rouges, jaunes, bleus, blancs. Un pluie d'étincelles espacées tombe. Des collines, au fond, montent sur le ciel. La nuit est claire, elle n'est assombrie que par les fantômes de barques et les étranges promeneurs de la jetée, si impalpables et si actifs.' 10
Translation: 'a pier juts out over water of a pale blue. People come and go, they are of a transparent black, their lighter clothes are livid spots. They really move, they are silhouetted in moving shadows. On the water, boats appear in hulls and masts, streaked with red, yellow, blue and white lights. A shower of scattered sparks falls. Hills, in the distance, rise to the sky. The night is clear, it is darkened only by the ghosts of boats and the strange walkers on the pier, so insubstantial and so dynamic.'

                    Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, Goupil Album 1892, GUL Whistler PH 5/2
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, Goupil Album 1892, GUL Whistler PH 5/2

Seeing it on view in 1892 at Goupil's, Whistler described it to his wife as 'The Valparaiso Nocturne! simply glowing.' 11 The Globe, however, it its review of the show on 21 March, described it as 'subtle in tone'.

He immediately wanted to borrow it for exhibition in Munich, 'if it has not already been there - of this am not sure.' 12 Instead it went to Philadelphia and to Chicago in 1893, where Charles McMeen Kurtz (1855-1909) reported to E. G. Kennedy on the hanging of the Whistler panel in the World's Columbian Exposition:

'The Whistler paintings are all in one room, with a single exception -- "The Nocturne, Valparaiso" -- which is in an adjoining gallery ... I, personally, plead guilty to the hanging of the pictures in the United States section. When we began the hanging, we had the intention of hanging each artist's works in a group by themselves, allowing space between the different groups, as in the salon of the Champs de Mars; but, owing to the enormous number of works sent by American artists, we found it was utterly impossible to do this in the space at our command. ... the next thing was to hang the pictures in such a manner as to give the best ensemble to the walls and to place each picture in such a way as to show it at its best. I think you will agree with me that Mr. Whistler's paintings certainly show to excellent advantage as they have been placed.' 13

Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) saw Whistler's paintings at the World's Fair and told Whistler he thought the Valparaiso 'supremely fine': he seized the opportunity to buy it five years later. 14

The painting had a busy life in 1898. At the Goupil Gallery it was described succinctly in The Times as 'the exquisite "Valparaiso" ' and by the Daily Telegraph as 'A famous Whistler—and one that deserves its fame.' 15

                    Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress
Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress

                    Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress
Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress

Shortly afterwards, Whistler was greatly concerned about the hanging of his works at the ISSPG and sent drawings (reproduced above) of his proposed group:

'1. Rose Corder. 2. Princess. 3. Portrait. 4. Piano. 5. Oval. 6. Thames in ice. 7. Philosopher. 8. Nocturne Valparaiso. 9. Petite Souris (girls head with feather boa) 10. "Etchings by Mrs McNeill Whistler".

Or [sketch of pictures numbered left to right:] 2 10 7. 8 9.

Yes this * last way I prefer - and it gives you no trouble - ... Hang all my pictures on the line - excepting the Holloway (Philosopher) just a tiny bit up to make the line pretty - and perhaps the Petite Souris - also slightly - a matter for your eye - And be sure to see to the proper tilting over - so that can be well seen … Hang nothing under any of the pictures.' 16

                    Rose and Brown: The Philosopher, Private Collection
Rose and Brown: The Philosopher, Private Collection

                    Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, Freer Gallery of Art
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, Freer Gallery of Art

                    Grey and Silver: La Petite Souris, The Hunterian
Grey and Silver: La Petite Souris, The Hunterian

Thus Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay was to hang between two small recent portraits, Rose and Brown: The Philosopher [YMSM 472] and Grey and Silver: La Petite Souris [YMSM 502], as seen above. Again, it received good reviews, the Pall Mall Gazette describing it as 'delicious' and the Glasgow Herald as 'beautiful and much-discussed'. 17

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay cannot now be lent to another venue.


1: GUW #11251.

2: E. A. Ward 1923 [more] , p. 265. Ward confused Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay [YMSM 076] and Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water [YMSM 117].

3: 28 May 1892, GUW #05742. D. C. Thomson to Whistler, 31 May 1892, GUW #05743. Whistler later said it was sold for £400.0.0, letter to G. Coronio, [1/15 August 1892], GUW #00694.

4: An error in the 1st edition of the catalogue gives the owner as William Burrell (1861-1958).

5: [30 May 1899], GUW #00734.

6: Freer to Miss R. Birnie Philip, 6 July 1909, GUL Whistler MS BP III 4/10.

7: 'Mr Whistler's and other shows', Truth, vol. 21, 7 April 1887, p. 556.

8: Spielmann, M. H., 'Art in April', Magazine of Art, vol. 10, 1887, p. xxv.

9: See also Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Leeds, 2 April 1887, p. 6; 'Society of British Artists', Globe, London, 4 April 1887, p. 6; 'Sensation in Suffolk Street', The Era, London, 9 April 1887, p. 7; 'Society of British Artists', Graphic, London, 9 April 1887, p. 12; 'Art Exhibitions', Illustrated London News, London, 9 April 1887, p. 6..

10: Geffroy 1890 [more] , at p. 294.

11: [14 March 1892], GUW #06613.

12: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [1/8 April 1892], GUW #08210.

13: 4 October 1893, GUW #00605.

14: 9 January 1894, GUW #01506.

15: 'Art Exhibitions', The Times, London, 21 March 1898, p. 14; 'Art Exhibitions', Daily Telegraph, London, 10 March 1898, p. 10.

16: Whistler to A. Ludovici, [April/May 1898], GUW #10694. Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG [M.1540].

17: Reviews include 'The International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers', Pall Mall Gazette, London, 16 May 1898, pp. 1-2; 'The International Society of Art', Glasgow Herald, Glasgow, 17 May 1898, p. 4; and 'The International Gallery', Morning Post, London, 19 May 1898, p. 8.

Last updated: 5th June 2021 by Margaret