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

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Annabel Lee

Annabel Lee dates from between 1869 and 1877, and was reworked and rubbed down many years later. 1

1868: The composition relates to the series of 'Six Projects' (really five projects), such as Variations in Blue and Green [YMSM 084], where figures are posed in front of railings against a background of sea and sky.

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian
Annabel Lee, The Hunterian
Annabel Lee, The Hunterian

1868/1877: A small oil, Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' [YMSM 080], may have preceded Annabel Lee [YMSM 079], or been based upon it. The dates of both paintings are difficult to establish, partly due to the condition of Annabel Lee.

1869: Possibly commissioned by William Graham (1841-1910)

1869/1870: Whistler at first called it a 'Blue Girl' and wrote to a prospective purchaser, William Grapel (1822-1887), 'I wish indeed that the little Blue Girl were yours - for you like it and I should be much gratified to see myself on your walls ... This blue picture is a commission though - tant pis! [from] comparatively a stranger.' 2

1871: It was left unfinished, as Whistler's mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), explained, when the model fell ill:

'A lovely study ordered two years ago by a wealthy MP. was promised in August. A beautiful young girl of 15 had posed for it, she was a novice & soon wearied standing, & pleaded illness, then her brother in play with her as she was at home hurt her seriously, & she had convulsions . . . if the youthful Maggie had not failed Jemie as a model for "The girl in blue on the sea shore" which I trust he may yet finish for Mr. Grahame he would have had no time for my Portrait.' 3

1874: William Graham, MP, wrote on 4 April suggesting that Whistler should give him 'the charming little Annabel Lee', whether it was finished or not. 4

1877: Whistler stated that he had 'tried to complete it many times and has only ruined it':

'There has been always a miserable fatality about the little picture I certainly meant you to have long ago - Curiously unable to satisfy myself I have over and over again attempted to complete the work and only by degrees brought about its destruction.' 5
Annabel Lee, The Hunterian
Annabel Lee, The Hunterian

1900: Annabel Lee was rubbed down for repainting around the turn of the century, according to Harold Wright (1885-1961), probably on the basis of information from Whistler's sister-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958). 6


1: Dated to 'late 1860s' in YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 79).

2: [1869/1870], GUW #01792, formerly dated [1869/1873]; a reference to a 'Venus' suggests the narrower date.

3: A. M. Whistler to C. Palmer, 3-4 November 1871, GUW #10071. The resulting portrait was, of course, Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101].

4: W. Graham to Whistler, 4 April 1874, GUW #01782.

5: Whistler to W. Graham, [23/30 July 1877], GUW #01784.

6: Label on verso written by H. Wright, initialled by Miss R. Birnie Philip.

Last updated: 1st November 2020 by Margaret