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

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The Selsey Shore

The Selsey Shore probably dates from just before or after Whistler's trip to Venice, and was thus painted between 1878 and September 1879 or between late 1880 and 1881. 1 Whistler visited Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), first owner of this painting, several times at Selsey Bill in the late 1870s, up to 1882.

In 1894 Whistler wrote to David Croal Thomson (1855-1930):

The painting "Selsea Bill Sands" - I am not going to sign it at all - The Goupils shall send it back to you at once -

You can tell your man that it is nothing but an odd scrap that I left at Howells when I once went down there, and that I never meant should exist at any price! - I ought to have thrown it in the fire at once - but probably there was no fire handy, & doubtless I would have scraped the canvas the next day, if I had staid to do it - I suppose that, being miserable without painting something, I strolled out on the beach, and found all "Nature" in a shocking state! bleak sky - hard as nails, in an east wind - cheap mean sea - and cold sands - In short every thing abominable and only fit for the British landscapist! - Of course I could do nothing - and ought never to have dipped my brush in such company! - There is no excuse for it - However rather than go in, and[8] much better had I gone in, I weakly attempted to put this common combination on canvas, & immediately sickened with it! - Howell kept it - & of course finally Dowdeswell got it! [butterfly signature]

I left that last page as it is, thinking that now that you have taken to giving my autograph away you might as well tare that half sheet off and give it to the unhappy collector who bought the scrap at the Dowdeswells!! - Upon reflection I think I will copy it and stick it on the back of the forgotten thing myself. - Meanwhile you can read it to him - Now I will charge him nothing for this "opinion" - and more than that - I will undertake that if one of these days your client ever wishes to buy anything of mine from me, I will allow the original fifty five pounds he paid for this Selsie [sic] Beach, or Sands - in order that I may have it back to destroy before him - I am sure nothing can be nicer or more complete than that -

Well I can't copy it - so let him tare [sic] off the half sheet and stick it on the back of his canvas!' 2


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 200).

2: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 30 August 1894, GUW #08311.

Last updated: 25th November 2020 by Margaret