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

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Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Little Blue Girl

Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Little Blue Girl was started in 1894 and worked on at intervals until Whistler's death in 1903. 1

1894: Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920) saw 'the little blue girl' at the time his own portrait, Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Brown: Portrait of Arthur J. Eddy [YMSM 425], was being painted in Paris in 1894, and later expressed a wish to buy it. 'What ever became of the little blue girl - that was a picture I wanted', he wrote to the artist. 2

Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought the 'Blue Girl' with three drawings from Whistler in November 1894 and expected Whistler to send it to him after exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1895, but it was not exhibited at that time. 3

1895: In the following year, Freer, after a lengthy trip to Japan, enquired of Whistler if his 'Little Blue Girl' was coming to America soon. 4

1896: Whistler's wife Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896) died of cancer.

1897: Whistler continued to work on the painting and wrote to Freer:

'your little "Blue & Gold Girl" is doing her very best to look lovely for you ...

I write to you many letters on your canvas! - and one of these days, you will, by degrees, / read them all, as you sit before your picture -

And in them you will find, I hope, dimly conveyed, my warm feeling of affectionate appreciation for the friendship that has shown itself to me, in my forlorn destruction - as it had done before, in our happiness, to both of us - And in the work, perhaps will you of your refined sympathy and perception, discover the pleasure and interest taken in the perfecting of it, by the other one who, with me, liked you.' 5

Freer, who had sent a telegram asking Whistler to send the painting, then replied, showing deep sympathy for Whistler's loss:

'Your letter with its exquisite memories, tenderness and friendship came this morning, and as I read of her sympathetic interest in the "Little Blue and Gold Girl" and realized for her sake, how precious its care and deeply-loving each finishing touch, my heart sank at the thought of having asked you to hurry the picture to me -

Forgive, I pray, those cold words of last week - colder to you, I fear, than the icy waves of the Atlantic through which they were flashed. And be assured, my dear Mr. Whistler, that whenever, in your own good time and way, you are quite ready to complete, and transfer to my keeping, that which she loved, and which all who have seen loves, I shall be rejoiced to receive, and care for as you would have me. And when I am gone, the picture shall rest with its own beautiful kind, so, "that in after years, others shall pass that way, and understand." ' 6

1901: Whistler planned to continue painting the model, Eva Victoria Carrington (1887-1979), 'the long-legged dancing Blue Girl', when he returned from Corsica, if the screen in the background, Blue and Silver: Screen, with Old Battersea Bridge [YMSM 139] , could be brought over from Paris to Fitzroy Street for this purpose:

'And now is the time when I want to attend to the Blue Girl and do the beautiful things that should save the situation ...

the difficulty about the Blue Girl is Paris and the Carrington! ... I might perhaps manage it in London - more quietly - but that would require bringing over blue screen etc: - You have as yet all the draperies & backgrounds in Fitzroy St. haven't you?' 7

1900-1903: On 27 June 1900 and again on 21 July 190l Freer wrote, with amazing patience, asking if it was finished. 8 In 1902 he saw the 'Little Blue Girl' in Whistler's studio, and offered to give Whistler more money for it. 9 However, he did not receive the inpainting until after Whistler's death in 1903.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 421).

2: Eddy to Whistler, 4 October 1895, GUW #01025.

3: Freer to Whistler, 23 November [1894], GUW #01509.

4: 23 September 1895, GUW #01512.

5: [24 March 1897], GUW #11571.

6: [6 April 1897], GUW #01514.

7: Whistler to R. Birnie Philip, 27 January [1901], GUW #04787 and 8 March 1901, GUW #04797.

8: GUW #01518, #01524.

9: n.d., Freer Diaries, Bk 12, Freer Gallery Archives. Note, 18 June 1902, GUW #11698.

Last updated: 7th June 2021 by Margaret