The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

Coach and horses

Coach and horses

Artist: J. McN. Whistler, possibly with Emma Woodbridge Palmer
Date: 1840/1843
Collection: Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Accession Number: PE1111/.B6/1840//c.2/P&P/Pennell
Medium: pencil and dark brown ink
Support: off-white paper, in Goold Brown, 'The Institutes of English Grammar', New York, 1832, revised edition
Size: cover 7 5/16 x 4 5/16"; paper 7 3/16 x 4 1/8" (cover 186 x 109; paper 182 x 105 mm)
Signature: 'James A. Whistler' etc, see below
Inscription: 'James A. Whistler / Springfield / Mass / Palmer / James A W / James A Whistler / Sprin[gfield] / JAW' in hands of Whistler and another


Coach and horses dates from between 1840 and 1843.

The inscription provides several clues, the main one being the reference to Springfield, CT, which suggests a date between 1840 (when Whistler was six) and August 1843, when the Whistlers left for Russia.

Coach and horses, Library of Congress
Coach and horses, Library of Congress

The naive drawing and the name 'Palmer' were originally thought to have been created by Whistler's step-cousin, Amos Palmer (1827-1861), who was seven years older than James. 1 However, the writing suggests a younger child.

Amos was the eldest of the five children of Dr George E. Palmer (1803-1868) and his first wife, Emma Ann Woodbridge. The others were William Rhodes (b. 1828); Benjamin F. (1834-1834); Emma Woodbridge (1835-1912) and Walter (1838-1839). Dr Palmer's second wife was Whistler's aunt, Catherine Jane Palmer (1812-1877). They had four children: George Erwin (1843-1909); Donald McNeill (b. 1845); and Anna Whistler (b. 1848) and Julia McNeill (1851-1902). Of these, the closest in age, and most likely collaborator in decorating the book, was Emma. She visited the Whistlers, and actually went to the same school, in Pomfret, CT, in 1850. She told Whistler's biographers, the Pennells, that James was 'one of the sweetest, loveliest boys I ever met.' 2


Coach and horses, Library of Congress
Coach and horses, Library of Congress

Inside back cover: Geometrical shapes, not reproduced.



Coach and horses, Library of Congress
Coach and horses, Library of Congress

The coach and horses and the name 'Palmer' were drawn with a broader nib than Whistler's name.

Inside the back cover there are sketches of geometrical shapes, not reproduced here.



Coach and horses, Library of Congress
Coach and horses, Library of Congress

It is not certain that the drawing is by Whistler, since both he and one of his cousins were involved. However, the signatures appear to be his.



1927/1936: given to the Library of Congress by Elizabeth Robins Pennell (1855-1936).

The early provenance is unknown. It has been suggested that the book was originally owned by Amos Palmer (1827-1861). 3 This is possible but there is no actual proof of his ownership; it probably belonged to another member of the family, Emma Woodbridge Palmer (1835-1912), and may well have been acquired by E. R. Pennell directly from her.


It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.


Catalogues Raisonnés

Books on Whistler


1: It is dated 'c. 1843' in MacDonald 1995 (cat. rais.) [more] (cat. no. 4), with the suggestion that Amos Palmer collaborated with Whistler in adorning the book, and actually owned the book.

2: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 27.

3: MacDonald 1995 (cat. rais.) [more] (cat. no. 4).