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

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This may be part of a sequence of studies for a larger composition. Whistler's working method could well have started, in traditional academic style, with drawings from models nude and clothed, small oil studies, and a full-scale cartoon intended for transfer to a large canvas.

Inspiration, The Hunterian
Inspiration, The Hunterian

The chalk, pastel, and watercolour drawing on the recto of r.: Inspiration; v.: A nude with a parasol and a jug [M.0358], suggests variations on the pose seen in the oil sketch Tanagra. The model's right hand is extended to left, holding out the drapery, and there are indecisive indications of the fan in her other hand. The tall vase on its shelf is included in two alternative positions at right.

Venus, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus, Freer Gallery of Art

A large chalk cartoon by Whistler, dated 1869, and known as Venus [M.0357], shows a standing figure of a woman with a fan, similar in pose to the figure in Tanagra, although the figure is nude, holding a fan, with drapery falling from her left shoulder. Her head is more upright and is seen straight on. The flowers are omitted in the cartoon. The cartoon is pricked for transfer to a canvas but no canvas of the subject on this scale is extant (the cartoon is 119.4 x 61.4 cm and is signed with a butterfly).

It was probably a photograph of this cartoon that Whistler sent to his American patron Thomas de Kay Winans (1820-1878) in 1869, saying:

'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

Venus, photograph altered by Whistler, GUL Whistler PH4/10
Venus, photograph altered by Whistler, GUL Whistler PH4/10

A copy of this photograph came with Whistler's collection to Glasgow University: it was drawn on in pencil by the artist, altering the outline of the torso to lean more to the left.

Spencer pointed out similarities between Tanagra and Albert Moore's painting Venus of 1869 (City of York Art Gallery). 2 Moore's technique, and in particular his method of drawing a cartoon for transferring a design to canvas, is very similar indeed to Whistler's cartoon Venus.

Tanagra, Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College
Tanagra, Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College

For all its small scale, Whistler's oil sketch Tanagra was painted with small brushed in sweeping strokes of creamy paint. There are traces of alterations to the position of the head and figure, and on the wall near the fans. However, it is signed with a butterfly that can be dated to the early 1870s, and is definitely later than the cartoon of 1869.

Rose and Silver, The Hunterian
Rose and Silver, The Hunterian

A chalk and pastel drawing, Rose and Silver [M.0356], also appears to be related to the oil sketch, but looks as if it was completed later, and it was certainly signed much later, about 1881/1882. It is impossible to know if it was originally drawn around the time the oil sketch was under construction. It includes several elements of the oil, in particular the drapery and fan, but the model's right hand is shown at her side, not crossing the body. It is possible that Whistler either revisited the subject in the 1890s, or reworked the pastel at that time.

1872: There is a possibility that these studies – drawings, oil sketch and cartoon – were later adapted for a proposed decorative painting intended for South Kensington Museum. Whistler was commissioned on 20 March 1872 to design 'two figures, one of Neath, the Egyptian Goddess of the Spindle, and the other of a Japanese art worker.' 3

1873: In March 1873 Whistler described a composition for South Kensington as a 'Gold Girl' and wrote to Alan Summerly Cole (1846-1934) :

'Your Gold Girl is all right - you have seen her well under way and in full swing ... and you shall have the large one coloured and finished quite as soon as you are really ready for her ... the Japanese painter of the Sun shall be of my most superb ... It will take me one day and a half to finish perfectly the small Gold Girl - and two days to colour the large one you send me, photographed i.e. enlarged - Now you do not need the large finished work until the middle of April ... Say this to your father from me and say that I bind myself to the accomplishment of this thing - moreover I have set my heart on having it in your halls in a state of perfection for exhibition ... Only how swell to have my others in the Academy and my Symphony in Gold at the Kensington Museum at the same time!' 4

Then in April Whistler wrote to the Director of the museum, Henry Cole (1808-1882):

'I am quite distressed that you should have had so long to wait for my work, which I am most anxious to deliver to you -

… When I first wrote to your son, I expected to complete the Japanese "Gold Girl" within a very few days. Almost immediately upon that letter my model broke down from over work - and has been incapable until today - The work itself has become much more important as I have gone on with it, and I desire that you should have it in it's completeness and of my best capacity -

It has been impossible for me to push this more rapidly ... Tomorrow evening I believe that the traced cartoon will be ready for photographing and enlarging upon the big canvass - and if you will have it sent for and put at once in hand, I will myself attend and assist all the next day - when by Monday night it will be doubtless ready for hanging -

... if it be impossible to work at the photographing on Sunday next, I can only say that you shall have the cartoon and canvass on the Monday - and my pupils shall work upon it during my absence, and I engage myself to return it to you colored and ready to hang on the 1st. of May.' 5

Venus [M.0357] is the only known cartoon by Whistler and it is possible that it was supposed to be transferred to canvas as the 'Gold Girl', while the oil sketch Tanagra was 'the small Gold Girl' mentioned in the previous letter to A. S. Cole, which would explain its early 1870s butterfly. However, the project was abandoned.


Tanagra, Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College
Tanagra, Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College

Whistler's oil sketch Tanagra was freely painted, with sweeping strokes of creamy-textured paint applied with small brushes, leaving ridges of paint at each side of the brushstrokes. There are signs of alterations to the position of the head and figure, and on the wall near the fans.

Conservation History



19 x 13 1/2 x 2 1/2" (Museum website).


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

2: Spencer 1972 [more], p. 42, painting by Moore repr. p. 38, cartoon repr. p. 39.

3: H. Cole to Whistler, GUW #05518. Several drawings that may be related to this project include: r.: A Japanese Woman; v.: Girl with parasol [M.0458], A Chinese lady with a parasol [M.0459], and Japanese lady decorating a fan [M.0460], as well as two later pastels, Design for a Mosaic [M.1226] and The Japanese Dress [M.1227], completed in the 1890s.

4: [March 1873], GUW #09022.

5: [27 April 1873], GUW #07887.

Last updated: 15th December 2020 by Margaret