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

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Venus Rising from the Sea


  • 1879: possibly acquired at the time of Whistler's bankruptcy by Thomas Way (1837-1915), London;
  • 1903: sold by Way's son, Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913), to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), Detroit, 28 July 1903;
  • 1919: bequeathed by C. L. Freer to the Freer Gallery of Art.

In 1873 Whistler 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.' 1 Whistler wrote about the same time to William Grapel (1822-1887), 'the Venus is really scarcely to be judged of in its present wild rough hewn state.' 2

It is possibly the nude referred to by the Pennells as being acquired by the London printer Thomas Way at the time of Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879. 3 It was sold by Way's son, T. R. Way, to C. L. Freer on 28 July 1903 for £400.0.0. This was a few days after Whistler's death. Freer bought an enormous number of works from T. R. Way at this time.

A. L. Coburn, C. L. Freer, photograph, 1909, Freer Gallery of Art
A. L. Coburn, C. L. Freer, photograph, 1909, Freer Gallery of Art

A photograph by Alvin Landon Coburn (1882-1966) shows Freer comparing Venus Rising from the Sea [YMSM 093] to an Islamic glazed ceramic pot (F1905.61) in 1909.


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.' 4 However, even if this did refer to the Venus under discussion, it was not exhibited at that time at the Royal Academy, nor is there any record of a later exhibition.

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent.


1: 31 January 1873, GUW #02242.

2: [1869/1873], GUW #01792.

3: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 134.

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

Last updated: 24th October 2020 by Margaret