The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 326
Coast Scene: Bathers

Coast Scene: Bathers

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1884/1885
Collection: Art Institute of Chicago
Accession Number: 1933.208
Medium: oil
Support: wood
Size: 13.8 x 22.1 cm (5 7/16 x 8 11/16")
Signature: butterfly
Inscription: none


Coast Scene: Bathers dates from late 1884 or 1885. 1

Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago
Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago

It may have been painted on Whistler's stay in Dieppe in the autumn of 1885. It is dated by the technique and butterfly.


Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago
Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago



The original title is not known. Several variations on a title have been suggested:

'Coast Scene: Bathers' is the generally accepted title.


Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago
Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago

A beach scene in horizontal format. In the foreground a dozen figures walk, sit, and play on a grey beach, and a couple at right swim in the pale turquoise sea, which breaks in gentle waves on the beach. Just to right of centre at upper right is a sailing boat. A darker shade of greenish blue marks the horizon. The sky is pale blue.


Possibly Dieppe, a busy port and tourist destination on the French coast.


Treuherz comments that La Plage, by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), shows the strong influence of such works by Whistler as Coast Scene: Bathers. 6

The Art Institute website comments:

'In this intimately scaled seascape, James McNeill Whistler employed the sparest of compositional elements to evoke a coastal atmosphere. Broad horizontal bands of blues and gray suggest sky, ocean, and sand, with dabs of thin pigment giving economical, yet expressive form to around a dozen figures on the windswept beach. Whistler dedicated much of his artistic practice to capturing the mood and color harmonies of marine scenes. Coast Scene, Bathers was painted en plein air, a practice to which the artist returned in the 1880s. It marked a distinctive shift from his studio-produced Nocturnes of the previous decade.' 7



Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago
Coast Scene: Bathers, Art Institute of Chicago

The medium and technique have been analysed fully by Kimberley Muir at the Art Institute of Chicago. 8 It was painted on a wooden panel, possibly alder, primed with a grey ground which was abraded, revealing the pinkish bare wood in places. The palette, according to Muir, 'includes lead white, iron oxide or earth pigments, umber, cadmium yellow, cobalt blue, emerald green, vermilion, and bone black.' 9

He worked from the ground up, painting first the beach, then the water, white waves, a darker blue horizon line, the sky, and finally the figures and sailing boat, all in a single session. A subtly coloured panel, it was fluidly painted wet-in-wet with long strokes of creamy paint for the beach, sea and sky, and tiny, precise and expressive strokes with a pointed brush for the details of figures. His brushes ranged from 10 mm wide to ca 1–2 mm for these fine details.

Conservation History

There are minor signs of damage or disturbed paint in the sea and sky at right. The edges are abraded, suggesting it was slid into a painting box while still wet, after a day's plein-air painting by the sea.

The conservation and condition of the painting are discussed by Kimberley Muir in the Art Institute of Chicago online catalogue. The painting had a thin natural resin varnish; there are minor spots of retouching but the panel is in good condition. 10


A broad frame with reeding on both sides of a flat panel. It is similar to, but not exactly like, Whistler's frames of the mid-1880s.



The early history of this painting is not known.

'Sea Shore scene with bathers' was recorded as bought from Mrs J. Cross by Colnaghi's on 1 November 1917. Their firm passed it to Knoedler's in New York, who sold it to the lawyer C. B. Eddy (who returned it) and then, in November 1919, to the Vose Galleries. Vose sold it to Woodruff J. Parker, a Chicago lawyer, on 5 June 1922. In 1926 it was sold by C. H. Johnson to W. S. Brewster who gave it to the Art Institute of Chicago, of which he was a trustee, in 1933 (at which time he gave his entire collection of Whistleriana to the Art Institute). It was actually transferred from Brewster's home to the Art Institute in 1948.


Although this must surely have been exhibited at Messrs Dowdeswell's in 1886, Petit's in 1887, or Wunderlich's in 1889, or indeed in another exhibition in the 1880s, no record exists of it being exhibited in Whistler’s lifetime. Given the subtle colour scheme, is possible that it was Note in Green and Violet y341, which was shown at The sixty-second Annual Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1885 (cat. no. 226).


Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905


Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present


Journals 1906-Present





1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 326).

2: Colnaghi's records, London, 1 November 1917.

3: A Collection of Paintings lent by Messrs. R. C. And N. M. Vose of Boston, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1921 (cat. no. 46).

4: Chicago 1933 (cat. no. 34).

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 326).

6: Treuherz, ‎Julian, Masterpieces from Manchester City Art Gallery: A Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, Manchester City Art Gallery, 1984, p. 59.

7: Art Institute of Chicago website at (acc. 2019).

8: Muir, Kimberley, 'Cat. 27 Coast Scene, Bathers, 1884/85: Technical Summary,' in Whistler Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2020, URL.

9: Muir notes that the ground consisted of lead white with traces of iron oxide or earth pigments, bone black, and other calcium compounds. Muir 2020, ibid.

10: Muir 2020, op. cit.