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

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Violet and Silver: The Great Sea


  • 1885: bought from Messrs Dowdeswell by Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) ;
  • 1902: bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) , Detroit;
  • 1919: bequeathed by C. L. Freer to the Freer Gallery of Art.

It was exhibited in Whistler's one-man show 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 33) and bought by H. S. Theobald, who was almost certainly the collector described by Whistler as having bought a number of paintings after a Dowdeswell exhibition. He wrote to Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929):

'I must know the whereabouts of every one of my little pictures … you must arrange with the man who bought the lot that remained over after the exhibition of the "Flesh color & grey", to let his collection go with me to America.' 1

In June 1902, Whistler sent C. L. Freer a telegram saying 'Theobald paintings at Marchants', informing him that the paintings owned by Theobald were apparently for sale. 2 As a result, C. L. Freer bought it in August 1902, for $750.


  • 1884: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 33) as 'Violet and silver. The Great Sea'.
  • 1887: possibly Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1887 (cat. no. 168) as 'Bleu et argent: La grande Mer'.
  • 1902: possibly Douzième Exposition, Ouvrages de Peintures, Sculpture, Dessin, Gravure, Architecture et Objets d'Art, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Grand Palais, Paris, 1902 (cat. no. 1192) as 'Bleu et argent: La grande Mer'.
  • 1903: Seventy-second Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1903 (cat. no. 5).
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 5) as 'Green and Gold – the Great Sea'.
  • 1905: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 103) as 'Green and Gold – the Great Sea'.

It is not certain that all these exhibits are the same picture: the colour changes in the titles are unexpected.

In 1884 a review in the Morning Post described this painting as 'a rough, vigorous study of the seashore.' 3

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent.


1: Whistler to W. Dowdeswell, [27 September 1885], GUW #08616. See also H. S. Theobald, receipt, 1 July 1885, GUW #00858; Dowdeswell's account, [July 1885/1886], GUW #00867.

2: 6 June 1902, GUW #11596.

3: Anon., 'Messrs. Dowdeswell's Gallery', Morning Post, London, 24 May 1884, p. 5; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 7, p. 17.

Last updated: 31st December 2020 by Margaret