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

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A White Note


  • By 1888: owned by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), London;
  • 1888/1899: passed to his wife Ellen 'Nellie' Millicent Ashburner Cobden, Mrs W. R. Sickert (1848-1914);
  • 1914: probably passed from her estate to her sister, Anne, Mrs T. J. Cobden Sanderson (1853-1926), San Francisco, California.
  • by 1920: sold to Knoedler, New York dealers;
  • 1920: sold by Knoedler's to Harris Whittemore (1864-1927), Naugatuck, Connecticut, President of the J. H. Whittemore Co., on 5 May 1920;
  • 1927: his children, Harris Whittemore, Jr (1894-1974), and Gertrude Buckingham Whittemore (1874-1941), succeeded as officers of the J. H. Whittemore Company;
  • 1941: passed to Gertrude Spencer Whittemore (Mrs Charles Hiram Upson) (1903-1987), Middlebury, CT, 16 July 1941:
  • 1987: after her death, sold at auction from the Estate of Gertrude Spencer Whittemore Upson, Sotheby's, New York, 3 December 1987 (lot 190), bought by Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York;
  • 1987: sold by Salander-O'Reilly Galleries to a private collector;
  • 2011: sold from 'a distinguished East Coast Collection' at auction, Sotheby's, New York, 19 May 2011 (lot 57);
  • 2011: bought by Paula Crane Lunder (b. 1935) and Peter H. Lunder (b. 1933);
  • 2014: given to Colby College Museum of Art.

It is not known what happened to this painting at the time of Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879. According to a label on the frame, it was acquired by the artist Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942). This was probably after Whistler's return from Venice in 1880 and certainly before 1888.

The painting was passed to Sickert's wife Ellen 'Nellie' Millicent Ashburner Cobden, Mrs W. R. Sickert (1848-1914) (they were divorced in 1899, at which time she took her maiden name of Cobden). She lent the painting to the Whistler Memorial exhibition in Paris in 1905, and after her death it was lent by her estate to an exhibition in San Francisco in 1915. It probably then passed to her sister, Mrs T. J. Cobden Sanderson, who owned it (according to the Pennells) before it was acquired by the art dealers, Knoedler's, New York. 1

Knoedler's sold it on 5 May 1920 to Harris Whittemore (1864-1927), Naugatuck, CT, President of the J . H. Whittemore Company. 2 On his death it passed to Gertrude Buckingham Whittemore (1874-1941), and was sold at auction after her death.


  • 1888: New English Art Club, Dudley Gallery, London, 1888 (cat. no. 98) as 'A White Note'.
  • 1905: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 6).

A White Note, Colby College Museum of Art
A White Note, Colby College Museum of Art

In 1888 the Daily Telegraph compared it to the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), commenting that 'the rich red hair and full pouting lips suggest Rossetti', while the Yorkshire Post interpreted it, not very favourably, as a Pre-Raphaelite image, 'A sad-eyed damsel gazes wistfully through the open window of an ancient tower to a mass of woodland ... the picture is motiveless, is smudgily painted, and suffers grievously from a dead-level of colour.' 3 However, the Illustrated London News called it 'exceedingly clever', describing it as 'a girl in an admirable pose, looking over a bit landscape—painted many years ago, for it is a Whistler “before the mark,” no symptom of the butterfly being discernible'. 4


1: Pennell 1921C [more], pp. 156, 161.

2: Smith, Ann Y., Hidden in Plain Sight: The Whittemore Collection and the French Impressionists, Garnet Hill Publishing Co. and Mattatuck Historical Society, 2009, p. 93.

3: Yorkshire Post, 9 April 1888; Daily Telegraph, 19 April 1888; press cuttings in GUL Whistler PC 9, pp. 87, 79.

4: 'The New English Art Club', Illustrated London News, London, 21 April 1888, p. 19.

Last updated: 18th April 2021 by Margaret