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

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Annabel Lee


  • ca 1869: commissioned by William Graham (1841-1910), MP, Glasgow and London, but not delivered;
  • 1879: possibly bought at Whistler's bankruptcy by a picture dealer on behalf of Thomas Way (1837-1915);
  • 1897: possibly returned to the artist in August 1897;
  • 1903: in Whistler's studio at his death and bequeathed to his ward and executrix, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958);
  • 1958: bequeathed by Miss Birnie Philip to the University of Glasgow.

It was commissioned, probably in 1869, by William Graham, whom Whistler described as 'comparatively a stranger'. 1 On 4 April 1874, Graham asked Whistler:

'May I venture to ask you if you can at all summon the necessary afflatus to complete the charming little Annabel Lee of which I had a [preview?] in the early days of our acquaintance or if that cannot be if you will kindly let me have it in such unfinished state as you have been able to accomplish.' 2

In July 1877, Graham reminded Whistler that he had sent him £100 pounds on account for the picture, adding, 'it was quite sufficiently attractive in the state I bought it in, to be a pleasant addition to my collection.' 3 Whistler replied that he had 'tried to complete it many times and ... only ruined it', and asked Graham to accept Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge [YMSM 140] instead. 4

Annabel Lee may have been may have among the 'loose canvases which [Whistler] more or less destroyed at the time of his bankruptcy' in 1879, according to Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913), and which were handed over to his creditors, but 'rejected by the auctioneers as unsaleable' and bought by a picture dealer on behalf of Way's father, Thomas Way (1837-1915) . 5 It could then have among ten small canvases returned to the artist as part of the final settlement between Whistler, Thomas Way and his son, T. R. Way, in August 1897. 6


It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.

Under the stipulations of the bequest of Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), it was not to be lent to any exhibitions, because it was in an unfinished and rubbed down condition. However, it has been on exhibition in the Hunterian, and was lent to Japan in 1987. 7


1: Whistler to W. Grapel, [1869/1870], GUW #01792.

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

3: Graham to Whistler, 23 July 1877, GUW #01783.

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

5: Way 1912 [more], pp. 98, 135-38.

6: G. & W. Webb to Whistler, 11 August 1897, GUW #06241.

7: ホイスラー展. Whistler Exhibition in Japan, Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo; Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Sapporo; Shizuoka Prefectural Museum, Shizuoka, 1986 (cat. no. 7) p. 59, repr.

Last updated: 1st November 2020 by Margaret