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

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Blue and Silver: Blue Wave, Biarritz


  • 1867/1878?: sold by Whistler to Gerald Potter (1829-1908) , London, for £50;
  • 1894: Potter sold the painting to Goupil, London art dealers;
  • 1896: bought from Goupil's by Alfred Atmore Pope (1842-1913) , Cleveland, 18 December 1896, for £1000;
  • 1913: bequeathed to Pope's daughter Theodate Pope (1867-1946) (Mrs John Wallace Riddle), Farmington, CT;
  • 1946: on her death, 30 August 1946, her house became the Hill-Stead Museum.

It is not known when Gerard Potter bought the painting. Writing many years later, Whistler said 'Potter ... sold the "Blue Wave," he paid me £50 for - for £1000. to Mr. Pope.' 1 That price, £50.0.0, suggests that it was either sold in the late 1860s or in the period before Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879. The most likely is in 1878 or 1879, when a cheque for £60.0.0. from Potter was used in part payment of Whistler's bill from Foord and Dickinson. 2 Potter certainly owned it by the mid-1880s. However, by July 1893 he was preparing to sell his pictures. Whistler wrote to D. C. Thomson, 'You had better tell me all about the Potter business - I do hope the things will be bought here - I want nothing to remain in England - Scotland is another thing.' 3 However, Thomson's efforts to sell Potter's pictures met with little success. Whistler was irate:

'I hear that things are "very bad" in Glasgow! How did you get on? And why do you always drag about these pictures of Potters?? Why? Why? Why!!!

It annoys me very much to think that works of that distinction should be hawked in this persistent way from one end of the land to the other!' 4

When the painting was sold in 1894, Whistler was predictably indignant:

'Hurrah Potter! - Well done Potter! -

That's a clear sweep of twelve hundred isn't it - or was it a little more? ...

Beautiful this combination of Patron & picture dealer! ...

You yourself my dear Patron, friend & speculator whose pictures came to the exhibition which was really your market, in sad need of care, threw the one or two frames in which they looked their best upon my hands! ... and cheaply shoved the beautiful "Blue wave" for which you expect another thousand doubtless, back into the mean old abomination of years ago.' 5

Researching Potter's misdeeds, Whistler checked with D. C. Thomson, asking, 'Wasn't Potter asking £1000 or more for the Blue Wave?' 6 By then Thomson had decided to send the painting to New York. 7 When it was sold, Thomson refused to name the price or the owner. 'Not a word to be got out of you about the strange admirer who bought the Potters Blue Wave for the Thousand!', complained Whistler. 8 Then, when he met the new owner, A. A. Pope, in Paris, the artist badgered the collector in order to find out the price!

'I have thought that I should like if you don't mind to have absolutely the facts about your purchase of the "Blue Wave" - and it did not occur to me last night in the midst of our pleasant talk to ask you - That is I took for granted that you paid through Thomson a thousand for the picture - Now was it one thousand pounds? or one thousand guineas? - I don't see why this should not belong to "history" - and I don't see why Thomson should be helped in wrapping up Mr Potter in mystery.' 9

After Pope purchased Blue and Silver. Blue Wave Biarritz from Goupil & Co. in London in 1894, he wrote to his friend Arthur Harris Whittemore (1864-1927), a major collector of Impressionist paintings:

'I was taken with ‘The Blue Wave’ it seemed & seems masterful. Its [sic] about the size of a large Monet, in style its [sic] very like a Courbet … the color is different, blue instead of green, the waves more natural not suggesting tapestry & yet far from the photographic sea of Henry Moore.' 10

Thus Pope implies satisfaction in matching the work of Claude Oscar Monet (1840-1926) for size and Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) for style and colour, while out-doing Henry Moore (1831-1895) by its dynamic realism.


  • 1892: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 21) as 'Blue and Silver. Blue Wave Biarritz'.
  • 1893: Possibly in [Exhibition], Boussod, Valadon & Cie., of the Goupil Gallery, London, at Wellington Studios, Glasgow, 1893 (no catalogue).
  • 1894: Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champ de Mars, Paris, 1894 (ex catalogue).
  • 1898: Twentieth Annual Exhibition of the Society of American Artists at the Galleries of the American Fine Arts Society, New York, 1898 (cat. no. 285).
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 54) as 'The Blue Wave'.
  • 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 (cat. no. 29) as 'The Blue Wave' and in the deluxe edition as 'Blue and Silver, The Blue Wave, Biarritz'.
  • 1905: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 55) as 'Bleu et argent. La vague bleue. Biarritz. – (Blue and Silver. The Blue Wave. Biarritz.)'

In 1864 Whistler discussed the paintings to be submitted to the Royal Academy with an Academician, the old family friend, William Boxall (1800-1879), and commented to Fantin-Latour that he felt the 'marine' was the least likely to be accepted ('La marine je suppose risque d'être sacrifié aux deux autres - mais nous verons.') 11 This may have referred to Blue and Silver: Blue Wave, Biarritz, but it is not certain.


                    Six paintings, detail, pencil, GUL Whistler MS W784
Six paintings, detail, pencil, GUL Whistler MS W784

Whistler included a tiny sketch of Blue and Silver: Blue Wave, Biarritz among Six paintings [M.1328] in a list of pictures for a proposed one-man exhibition at the Royal Society of British Artists during Whistler's Presidency (an idea that was abandoned when he was forced to resign in 1887). 12

1892: Thus its first recorded exhibition occurred when the owner, J. C. Potter, agreed to lend it to Whistler's retrospective exhibition at the Goupil Gallery. 13 On 15 March 1892 Whistler wrote describing the painting to his wife: 'Potters blue wave! - you never saw such a sea - absolutely sculptured out of the most brilliant blue and green & violet! so deep - so profound - so gay and so terrible!' 14

For the catalogue entry Whistler selected reviews that refuted earlier criticism of his oeuvre in general; in this case he first quoted an 1878 review of the Grosvenor Gallery exhibition that said Whistler's work lacked 'finish', leaving off 'where other artists begin'. 15 Secondly, he quoted Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921), who stated that Whistler lacked 'the power ... of drawing forms of water'. 16

The Glasgow Herald on 19 March 1892 described it as 'a rolling sea of foam and azure à la Courbet' and The Scotsman on 21 March 1892 commented that in the "Blue Wave", 'he revels in robustness of colour and definition of sea and cloud in a way that recalls the canvases of Mr. J. C. Hook.' Whistler had himself considered it, in 1862, in relation to the more highly finished work of the successful sea painter James Clarke Hook (1819-1907). 17 It is also true that the painting bears obvious comparison with the work of Whistler's early mentor, Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), as mentioned by a later owner, A. A. Pope in 1894. 18

                    Blue and Silver: Blue Wave, Biarritz, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL MS Whistler PH5/2
Blue and Silver: Blue Wave, Biarritz, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL MS Whistler PH5/2

Whistler was very pleased with the photograph for the Goupil Album in 1892, reproduced above: Potter's 'Blue Wave ... is beautiful', he wrote. 19 He immediately asked D. C. Thomson to borrow it for exhibition in Paris, and J. C. Potter agreed to lend his pictures to two exhibitions, both in Paris and Munich. 20 Arrangements for the loans and insurance seem to have fallen through, so the painting did not go to the VI. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung in Munich. 21

1893: The Scotsman on 6 June commended the 'massive strength' of the 'Blue Wave', as seen in London in the previous year. The painting may have been shown in Glasgow later in 1893, when D. C. Thomson was trying but failing to find purchasers for Potter's pictures. 22 It also appears on lists of possible exhibits in the World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893, but was not included. 23

1894: According to Lafarge and Jaccacci it was shown in Paris, at the exhibition of the Societé Nationale in 1894, but it was not in the catalogue. 24

1898-1905: Once in Pope's collection, it was shown in New York in 1898, and, after Whistler's death, in the Memorial shows held in Boston in 1904 and in London and Paris in 1905.


1: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 5 August [1895], GUW #09733; see also Whistler to A. Ionides, [15 August 1895], GUW #02364.

2: Foord and Dickinson to Whistler, [August 1878/1879], GUW #08944. The name is Foord, not Ford: see Simon, Jacob, 'British picture framemakers, 1600-1950 - F', National Portrait Gallery, website at

3: [20 July 1893], GUW #08254.

4: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [10 December 1893], GUW #08287.

5: Whistler to Potter, [21 February 1894], GUW #05010; see also GUW #13346.

6: [25 July 1894], GUW #08264.

7: 26 July 1894, GUW #05810.

8: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [14 September 1894], GUW #08299.

9: [13 September 1894], GUW #09346.

10: Hill-Stead Museum website.

11: [5/26] April [1864], GUW #08038.

12: List, [1886/1887], formerly dated [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

13: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 9 February 1892, GUW #05683.

14: Whistler to B. Whistler, [14 March 1892], GUW #06613.

15: Catalogue Goupil 1892[more] (cat. no. 21), reprinted in Whistler 1892 [more] , p. 310. This quotation is inscribed 'Daily Telegraph' above a press cutting kept by the artist and now in GUL PC 1/89; it appears to have been incorrectly attributed, and has not been identified.

16: Wedmore 1879 [more] . See Getscher 1986 [more] , pp. 176-77, J. 40, and p. 185, J.77.

17: 'le public vois demande du fini! et il montre - Hook et Cie!', Whistler to H. Fantin-Latour, [14/21 October 1862], GUW #08028.

18: A. A. Pope to A. H. Whittemore, 1894, Hill-Stead Museum website. See, for example, Courbet's The Wave, 1869, Musée d'Orsay, Paris; see also Tinterow, Gary, and Henri Loyrette, Origins of Impressionism, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 240, repr., and Tinterow, Gary, and Kathryn Calley Galitz, Gustave Courbet, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2008, cat. nos. 130-135, pp. 288-293.

19: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 2 May 1892, GUW #08205.

20: Whistler to Thomson, [1/8 April 1892], GUW #08210; Potter to Whistler, 21 April 1892, GUW #05007.

21: VI. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1892. W. Marchant to Whistler, 29 April 1892, GUW #05733; Potter to Whistler, 1 May 1892, GUW #05008.

22: See Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [10 December 1893], GUW #08287.

23: B. Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [22 October / November 1892], GUW #09703; Whistler to E. A. Abbey, [November 1892 / 10 January 1893], GUW #03181.

24: La Farge, John & August F. Jaccacci , eds, Concerning Noteworthy paintings in American private collections, New York, 1909, p. 22.

Last updated: 31st December 2020 by Margaret