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

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Venus dates from 1869. It was the first of Whistler's works to be both dated and signed with his monogram, the butterfly, which was evolved from his initials 'JW'.

Venus, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus, photograph altered by Whistler, GUL Whistler PH4/10
Venus, photograph altered by Whistler, GUL Whistler PH4/10

About 1869 Whistler wrote to his patron Thomas Winans, `I send you a small photograph of the "cartoon" for one of the pictures I am engaged upon. The figure itself is about small life size and will when painted be clad in thin transparent drapery, a lot of flowers and very light bright colour go to make up the picture.' 1

It has been assumed that the Winans letter dates from 1869, and that because there is a photograph of this drawing, it has to be the cartoon mentioned to Winans. Its state of finish, which exceeds the standard necessary for transferring it to canvas, suggests the drawing was to be exhibited. There could have been several reasons for it being photographed: to send to Winans or other patrons as an example of his work, to try out alterations without further damage to the drawing, or to keep as a record of a work which he expected to sell.

It has been suggested that this cartoon was prepared for Alan Summerly Cole (1846-1934) in 1872 (see Gold Girl [M.0461]), but this is not necessarily true: it seems unlike Whistler to leave the 1869 date on a cartoon being prepared in 1873.

The drawing is fully catalogued in MacDonald 1995 (cat. rais.) [more] (cat. no. 357).


1: [September/November 1869], GUW #10632.

Last updated: 3rd June 2021 by Margaret