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

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The Three Girls


Possible titles include:

  • 'the Garden picture' (1868, Whistler). 1
  • 'the three Girls' (1872, Whistler). 2
  • 'three Girls - "SYMPHONY IN WHITE AND RED - full palette" ' (1873, Whistler). 3
  • 'Symphony in Red and White' (1876, New York Herald). 4
  • 'the greek girls' (1880, M. W. Elden). 5
  • 'Symphony in White, No. 4' or 'The Three Girls' or 'The Hothouse' (1903, Way & Dennis). 6
  • 'The Three Girls' (1980, YMSM). 7

'The Three Girls' is the generally accepted title.

Whistler's invitation to Alan S. Cole in 1873 to view 'the "Three Girls" - "Symphony in White and Red - full palette"!' suggests that he also had this painting in mind when he told the American artist Otto Henry Bacher (1856-1909):

'His most ambitious desire was to paint a grand concerto-like picture with the title "Full Palette" – "just as in music", he [Whistler] explained, "when they employ all the instruments they make it 'Full Band'. If I can find the right kind of thing I will produce a harmony in color corresponding to Beethoven's harmonies in sound." ' 8


Pink and Grey: Three Figures, Tate
Pink and Grey: Three Figures, Tate

The Three Girls [YMSM 088] was copied by Whistler before it was destroyed, so, if the copy, Pink and Grey: Three Figures [YMSM 089] was accurate, the original was a figure composition in horizontal format. Based on this copy, it appears that The Three Girls showed three women in diaphanous white robes in a garden or conservatory. The woman at left stood bending forward to right, with her hands on her knees. The woman in the centre crouched facing to right, with her arms reaching out to a flowering cherry tree in a pot on a low table. At far right there was a flower in a blue and white vase. The woman at right, facing left, had a red headband or scarf; her left arm crossed her body, holding over her right shoulder a large parasol. Behind them was a shoulder-high fence. Awnings or blinds hung on a framework visible above the fence. A rug and a robe lay on the floor.


According to Mary Glenn Perine (1822-1896), she saw Emelie 'Millie' Eyre Jones (1850-1920) posing for The Three Girls on 20 June 1868. 9 Augusta Maria Jones (fl. 1865), may also have posed. 10

 Study of 'Tillie: A Model', 1870/1873, The Hunterian
Study of 'Tillie: A Model', 1870/1873, The Hunterian

There were probably several models, possibly including Matilda Maria Gilchrist née Potter (1826-1886), who posed for the drypoint Tillie: A Model [113], in the same pose (in reverse as printed) as the standing figure at left, and presumably for the drawing reproduced above, Study for 'Tillie: A Model' [M.0369].


Robin Spencer pointed out the relationship between the composition of The Three Girls [YMSM 088] and that of Albert Moore's three figure composition, Pomegranates (Guildhall Art Gallery, London) of 1866. The two figures, the setting and use of drapery in The Shunamite (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) are also comparable to the left and right-hand figures in The Three Girls [YMSM 088]. 11


1: Whistler to F. R. Leyland, 26 May 1868, GUW #08789.

2: Whistler to F. R. Leyland, [2/9 November 1872], GUW #08794.

3: Whistler to A. S. Cole, March 1873, GUW #09022.

4: 'American Artists in London, What they have done for Philadelphia', New York Herald, New York, 10 April 1876, p. 5.

5: [February 1880], GUW #01049.

6: Way & Dennis 1903 [more], p. 30.

7: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 88).

8: Bacher 1906 [more], pp. 58-59.

9: Diary, Maryland Historical Society Library, Manuscripts Division, Baltimore, MD.

10: See Whistler to E. E. Jones, and to A. Jones, [February 1868/1869], GUW #09173 and #09175; Whistler to E. E. Jones, [13 February 1869], GUW #09169.

11: Spencer 1972 [more], pp. 34-35.

Last updated: 1st June 2020 by Margaret