The sea and sand are painted fairly thickly and smoothly, except for some extremely effective dripping of the paint in the long wave in the foreground. It looks as if the boat was originally between the figures, at the shore, and then repainted further out to sea.
The Athenaeum questioned Whistler's technique in painting this oil:
'we admit the charm and preciousness of the effect of pale azure lustre growing strong with dawn over a still dark sea and ghastly beach and cliffs … we cannot understand how … the sails of the smacks setting forth to sea can be mere diaphanous films, without solidity or power to reflect, much less to intercept, light coming from behind them.' 1
It was in poor condition when it was treated in 1921, and, according to a conservation report of that year, it had been painted over an old painting that had been varnished. 2 Varnish was removed, and the canvas resurfaced and relined in the same year. It was retouched and resurfaced in 1922 and 1931, cleaned and surfaced in 1935 and 1951.
In 1875 Whistler wrote to Cyril Flower: 'The frame it is stuck in is not its own of course merely for the moment - it will be framed in pale green gold with blue pattern.' 3 A new frame was probably made at this time for the forthcoming exhibition in the following year.
In 1892, Whistler apparently asked for all the paintings then owned by Alfred Chapman to be reframed by Frederick Henry Grau (1859-1892) for the Goupil exhibition. This painting is not specifically mentioned as having a new frame, and in any case, Chapman refused to pay for the new frames and they were returned after the show. 4
In 1899 the painting was bought by C. L. Freer and probably reframed shortly afterwards in an American Grau-style frame, which bears the label of W. S. LeBrocq, who made a number of frame for Freer's American paintings, including for instance The Lute, by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938), which is also in the Freer Gallery of Art (FGA F1913.34).
Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret