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

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Venus Rising from the Sea

Venus Rising from the Sea probably dates from between 1868 and 1873.

Venus Rising from the Sea, infrared, 1965
Venus Rising from the Sea, infrared, 1965
Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art

1865: Venus Rising from the Sea is painted over a seascape or river scene, which is visible at right angles to the figure study. The seascape could have been comparable to those Whistler was working on in the autumn of 1865, such as Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 064], Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 066], and Green and Grey. Channel [YMSM 069], Green and Grey. The Oyster Smacks – Evening [YMSM 070], but could be later.

1868: Whistler started at least three versions of paintings of Venus. One, Venus [YMSM 082], one of 'The Six Projects', dates from 1868, and it is possible that Venus Rising from the Sea [YMSM 093] also dates from that time.

1869/1870: Whistler wrote to William Grapel (1822-1887), 'The Venus is really scarcely to be judged of in its present wild rough hewn state.' 1 Venus Rising from the Sea and Venus [YMSM 082] are both in what Whistler might have called a 'rough hewn state'. Furthermore, an elaborate cartoon called Venus [M.0357] was signed and dated '1869'.

1870: Edwin Edwards (1823-1879) wrote to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) 'j'irais voir Whistler aussitot que je peux sortir - il a presque fini quelque chose (une Venus je crois) pour l'Académie.' (Translation: 'I will go to see Whistler as soon as I can go out; he has almost finished something (a Venus I believe) for the Academy.' 2 However, no such painting was sent to the Royal Academy in May 1870.

1871: The composition, in its present form, is painted over a seascape or river scene; the canvas is the same size as Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea [YMSM 103], which is signed and dated 1871. It is possible that the Venus was started as late as this date.

1873: Whistler may have continued to work on the subject even later in the 1870s. On 31 January 1873 he wrote to his patron Louis Huth (1821-1905),

'I should not exactly like to fix the price of the other two pictures until they are a little way on; However I think the Venus ought to be somewhere about 6 or 7 hundred ... But if you agree with me I think we might talk this over - The pictures anyhow are the ones that I intend now to take up directly the Academy work is over - and you can see as they progress whether you like to keep them for yourself.' 3


1: [1869/1870], GUW #01792.

2: Copy of letter, [February 1870], GUL, C. P. Barbier Collection, vol. 2, f. 274 v., from original in Musée de Grenoble.

3: Draft, [31 January 1873], GUW #02242. Huth replied 'I gladly accept your offer as regards the other two pictures to allow me to postpone my final decision in regard to them until they are further advanced.' 1 February 1873, GUW #02243.

Last updated: 24th October 2020 by Margaret