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

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Sea and Rain


  • Date unknown: bought from Whistler by Alexander Ionides (1840-1898) ;
  • 1895/1897: sold through the Goupil Gallery, London, to Alexander Young (1828–1907) .
  • 1905/1906: bought from Agnew, London dealers, by Knoedler, London & New York dealers;
  • 1906: sold by Knoedler's to Scott & Fowles, New York dealers, in August;
  • 1906: bought by Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (then Miss Watson) on 15 November;
  • 1936: passed on her death to her husband, Dr Walter R. Parker (1866-1955) of Grosse Point, MI, who retained a life interest in it;
  • 1955: on his death, it passed under the provisions of Mrs Parker's will to the Museum of Art, University of Michigan.

According to Whistler he originally sold it to 'Aleco' (Alexander Ionides) for £20.0.0 or £30.0.0. 1

It was exhibited and for sale at Goupil's in London in 1895 (cat. no. 12). On 24 April 1895 Whistler wrote to David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) about a prospective purchaser, 'You had better tell the gentleman at once that the marine picture ... used to be called as well as I remember: "Sea and Rain".' 2 In July George Moore (1852-1933) wrote that the picture, then in the Goupil Gallery, was 'a rare bargain' at £300.0.0. 3 Whistler noted that the price was actually 300 gns. 4 The New York dealer, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), wrote to Whistler in September, 'The "Sea and rain" is very fine.' 5

It was probably bought from the Goupil Gallery between 1895 and 1897 by Alexander Young (1828–1907) and sold by him in 1905. Mrs Parker, then Miss Watson, finally bought it at the suggestion of Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), on 15 November 1906, for $9000. 6 On the death of her husband, it passed under the provisions of Mrs Parker's will to the University of Michigan.


  • 1867: 99th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1867 (cat. no. 670) as 'Sea and Rain'.
  • 1878: II Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1878 (cat. no. 52) as 'Harmony in Blue and Yellow'.
  • 1883: Possibly Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 101st exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1883 (cat. no. 4) as 'Harmonie en bleu et argent'.
  • 1895: A Connoisseur's Treasures [Alexander Ionides Collection], Goupil Gallery, London, 1895 (cat. no. 12).
  • 1897: Thirty-sixth Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Glasgow, 1897 (cat. no. 107).
  • 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. 3) (cat. no. 3) as 'Seascape' in ordinary edition and 'Sea and Rain' in deluxe edition.

On 31 March 1867 William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919) saw the paintings that Whistler was considering sending to the Royal Academy of Arts, and noted, 'I rather recommended him to select the largest of these, which he regards with predilection, of a grey sea and a very grey sky.' 7 It was accepted by the RA, and hung on the lowest level, as Whistler told Lucas Ionides, 'My pictures are pretty well hung at the Academy only on a crowded day cannot be seen because of the crinolines.' 8

Frederick George Stephens (1828-1907) commended it 'to the wise', suggesting that others would not understand it. 9 Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) described it as impossible to describe,

'Grey sky, gray sea, gray wet sand. Some touches of white to indicate breakers, some birds, a figure lightly indicated. Materially there is nothing in it, mentally there is an impression of infinite dreariness … if we grant to painting the wider function of awakening or reviving impressions of any kind, and by any means in its power, then such work as this is not only art, but art entirely fulfilling its duties to the world.' 10

However, several other newspapers appeared perfectly happy with it. 11 An approving description of the painting appeared in a press cutting kept by the artist in 1867:

'Earth, air, and sea repeated by three splashes on the canvas, a splash to an element ... The object ... is to show how the sea looks under a steady, unbroken shower. The streaming pour of rain slides down upon the water, smoothing out all form, washing all keenness from the wave – almost all substance away from everything. Thin grey veils of vapour, damp stream of mist, fill the air and blind the sight, and the result is a pervading liquid, dense, transparency – an aerial effect for which, in truth, we can appeal to no surer witness than Whistler's canvas.' 12

The Times art critic, in a generally dismissive review of Whistler's exhibits at the Grosvenor in 1878, described what appears to be this painting: ' "Harmony in blue and yellow," a broad expanse of sand with a suggestion of a man standing on it'. 13 Henry Blackburn (1830-1897) mentioned it as one of a group of 'landscapes of great subtlety and charm passed too lightly by the majority of visitors.' 14

Sea and Rain may have been the 'Harmonie en bleu et argent' exhibited in Paris in 1883 (cat. no. 4) and described by a journalist as 'Mer bleue où se mirent les nuages, azur du ciel, ainsi que l'argent des autres nuages dans les vagues qui viennent lécher la plage. Effet encore tendre.' 15 However, there is no mention of the figure, and the description also fits Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 066].

Whistler retained his regard for this painting. On 14 February 1892 he asked David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) to request the loan of Sea and Rain from Ionides for his retrospective exhibition at the Goupil Gallery; it was, Whistler said, 'most important.' 16 However, it was not exhibited at that time, though three years later it was included in the Goupil exhibition of the Ionides collection. George Moore implied that he was answering some criticism of Whistler's more recent work, when he commented in 1895 on Sea and Rain [YMSM 065]:

'The Seapiece by Whistler ... is apparently very slight ... [yet] the epithet "slight" is in my opinion, inapplicable to this picture; I should say that it was fundamental, profound. It was painted at a time when Mr. Whistler had not ceased to think and to feel deeply, and the expression he has given to that receding tide haunts me ... It is in my opinion an incomparable work of art.' 17

It was received enthusiastically in Glasgow in 1897: 'in the large gallery a Whistler Sea and Rain may be said to dominate the whole wall on that side, for the eye instinctively rests upon it', wrote the art critic of the Dundee Courier on 5 February.


1: Letter to E. G. Kennedy, 5 August [1895], GUW #09733; to D. C. Thomson, 15 August [1895], GUW #08306; and to H. E. Whistler, [19 August 1895], GUW #06733.

2: GUW #08304.

3: Moore, George, 'The End of the Season', Speaker, 27 July 1895, p. 98.

4: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [9 August 1895], GUW #08363.

5: 30 August 1895, 30 August-15 September 1895, GUW #07259.

6: I. S. Gardner Museum records.

7: Rossetti 1903 [more] , pp. 222, 228.

8: [May/June 1867], GUW #10827.

9: Stephens, F. G., 'Fine Arts. Royal Academy', The Athenaeum, 18 May 1867.

10: Hamerton 1867 [more] , at p. 691.

11: For example, Illustrated Times, London, 8 June 1867, p. 11; The Atlas, 6 July 1867, pp. 5-6.

12: Listed as 'Daily Telegraph', 31 May 1867; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC1, p. 27.

13: 'The Grosvenor Gallery,' The Times, London, 2 May 1878, p. 7.

14: Blackburn 1878 [more] , p. 20.

15: [1883], unidentified press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 7, p. 15.

16: GUW #08216; 10 March [1892], GUW #08358.

17: Moore 1895 (April, II)[more] , at p. 98.

Last updated: 11th November 2021 by Margaret