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

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The Angry Sea


  • 1901: bought from the Goupil Gallery, London, by John James Cowan (1846-1936), Edinburgh;
  • 1904: bought from Cowan through W. Marchant & Co., London, by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), Detroit;
  • 1919: bequeathed by C. L. Freer to the Freer Gallery of Art.

Whistler told Thomas Waldo Story (1855-1915) that he was saving up his work for an exhibition:

I want about fifty pounds - Do you think you can manage to get me this or any part of it [?] ...

I have done delightful things - and have a wonderful game to play soon - but meantime of course I have simply been living as we like to live while working you know how - and so by dint of always writing cheques have nearly written up everything in the Bank! -

Now when my exhibition comes off I have plenty of amazing little beauties - new game! - that will bring golden ducats - like the pastels - but meantime I dont want to sell any of them nor do I want to ask the Fine Art Society to advance anything if I can help it - so now write at once and say and send if you can ...

Dear me I wish you could have been here with us ... such a lovely sea side business - and warm for England too - I carry away some things you would be delighted with I fancy.' 1

It is not clear when the painting left Whistler's possession, but it was presumably in or some time after 1884. In 1901, Whistler apparently had no idea that it was with the Goupil Gallery, London art dealers, who sold it to J. J. Cowan. Cowan sent Whistler a sketch and described it as 'Sky, steamer, sea & sandy shore (got from Goupil)' from which Whistler identified it as ' "Angry Sea" - St. Ives.' 2 Cowan sold it through W. Marchant, London art dealers, to C. L. Freer in June 1904; Freer paid £150 plus commission.


  • 1884: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 2) as 'The Angry Sea'.
  • 1904: 78th Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 1904 (cat. no. 314).

Reviews were variable. The Kensington News failed to understand it: 'Now look at ‘The Angry Sea’ (2). Where is the sense of the title or the raison d’être of the picture?' 3 The Court Circular admired the frame, somewhat ironically: 'A strip of angry, grey-green sea, framed in green gold, against the dull pink background, is an exquisite arrangement of colour, worthy to be adopted by the costumiere of the period.' 4 Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) asked, enigmatically, "What would Mr Clark Russell say to the anger of 'The Angry Sea'? " 5 William Clark Russell (1844-1911) wrote books on the sea and ships, three of which were published in 1884 (On the Fo'k'sle Head, English Channel Ports and The Sea Queen).

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


1: [January 1884], GUW #09420.

2: Cowan to Whistler, 25-26 February and 27 February 1901, GUW #00743 and #00744; photographs sent by Cowan, 19 November 1902, GUW #00759.

3: 'M.C.S.' [Malcolm Charles Salaman], Kensington News, London, 29 May 1884. Press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 6, p. 13.

4: Anon., ‘Causerie’, Court Circular, London, 24 May 1884; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 6.

5: Wedmore 1884 [more]. Press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 6, p. 53.

Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret