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

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Cliffs and Breakers


Whistler's own title is not known for certain. Various titles are given below:

  • Possibly 'The Green Headland' (1884, Dowdeswell). 1
  • 'Falaise et ecueils' (1961, Centre culturel américain, Paris). 2
  • 'Klippe und Brecher mit offenem Meer' (1969, Nationalgalerie, Berlin). 3
  • 'Open Sea with Cliffs and Breakers' (1970, Nottingham University). 4
  • 'Cliffs and Breakers' (1980, YMSM). 5

Not being sure of the original title, 'Cliffs and Breakers' is the generally accepted title.


                    Cliffs and Breakers, The Hunterian
Cliffs and Breakers, The Hunterian

A seascape in horizontal format. The sky is pale grey-blue, and there are two small sailing boats on the horizon, above centre. The calm sea, blue at the horizon, fades to silvery grey near the beach, and merges into the ochre beach curving round towards the headland at left. The small headland is dark brown. Bright white waves break on the headland at left.


Almost certainly the view is near the fishing port of St Ives, Cornwall, in the south west of England. Whistler's view is not sufficiently specific to be able to identify it exactly.

Menpes wrote of Whistler during this trip:

'The boats, the sea, the fishermen all fascinated him. He rose at cock crow, and seemed to be always full of the most untiring energy. By the time the first glimpse of dawn had shown itself in the sky he would be up and dressed and pacing very impatiently along the corridor.' 6
W.R. Sickert, Clodgy Point, The Hunterian
W.R. Sickert, Clodgy Point, The Hunterian

Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) painted a similar view, showing the beach beneath the headland, Clodgy Point. 7 The firm of Francis Frith published several photographs of Clodgy Point, showing a similar view to Sickert's, as well as views of the numerous headlands along the coast. 8 Other artists who exhibited paintings of Clodgy Point included a St Ives resident, Percy B. Northcote (born in Devon in 1858), who exhibited at Dowdeswell's in 1890, and Edmund Fisher at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1904. 9


1: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 37); see The Green Headland [YMSM 279].

2: Prelude a Whistler, Paris, Centre culturel américain, 1961 (cat. no. 8).

3: Spencer, Robin, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1969 (cat. no. 39).

4: Pickvance, Ronald, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903): An Exhibition of Works from the University of Glasgow Collection, Nottingham University Art Gallery, Nottingham, 1970 (cat. no. 7).

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 278).

6: Menpes 1904 A [more] .

7: The Hunterian, GLAHA 43813.

8: Francis Frith website at

9: David Tovey, Pioneers of St Ives art at home and abroad (1989-1914), Tewkesbury, 2008, p. 68, and p. 117, repr.

Last updated: 23rd May 2021 by Margaret