The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 330
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1885
Collection: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Accession Number: F1914.2a-b
Medium: oil
Support: wood
Size: 12.5 x 21.7 cm (5 x 8 1/2")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Dowdeswell, 1886

Date

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore was painted in Dieppe, probably in the autumn of 1885. 1

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art

It was first exhibited in 1886, in 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Second Series, Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1886 (cat. no. 43) .

Images

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, photograph, 1913/1914
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, photograph, 1913/1914

Subject

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

'Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore' is the preferred title. This is an unusual, emotive and rather negative title, though it matches the subdued colouring of the chilly scene.

Description

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art

A beach scene in horizontal format. Several figures sit in the middle of a beige/brown beach, and others are walking by the shore in the distance at right. The sea beyond is a pale grey.

Site

Painted at Dieppe, on the French coast, a busy port and seaside resort. Whistler visited Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) and his wife there during the autumn of 1885. 7

Technique

Composition

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art

Pentimenti show that the group of three figures in the centre was once farther to the left and higher up, breaking the line of water. The group was also tried out further to the right.

Technique

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art

The essentially simple composition of long fluid brushstrokes reaching from one side of the panel to the other is complicated and contradicted by the fussy work around the seated figures, which must have been painted while the background was still wet. The colour is sombre, the brown sand and grey sea matching the title exactly, and painted over a pale grey ground. It is unique in Whistler's work in having no horizon visible.

Conservation History

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, photograph, 1913/1914
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, photograph, 1913/1914

An early photograph, dating from when it was at Knoedler's in New York, shows no change in the picture's condition, except that there is now a small scratch or abrasion at lower right.

According to Freer Gallery records, it was cleaned and varnished in 1937, resurfaced in 1938, and again cleaned and resurfaced in 1951.

Frame

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, Freer Gallery of Art

1886: The frame was probably made for the 1886 Dowdeswell exhibition. 8

History

Provenance

It was exhibited with “Notes” – “Harmonies” – “Nocturnes”, H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, 1889 (cat. no. 27) as 'Grey and Brown The Sad Sea - Dieppe' priced at £35. 9 According to a list of buyers, it was bought from the exhibition by a C. A. Miller, but the sale is annotated 'disappeared'. 10 There are several gaps in the provenance and this sale is not certain.

It was at one time, according to C. L. Freer, in the 'Forbes' collection: possibly he meant James Staats Forbes (1823-1904).

Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, photograph, 1913/1914
Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore, photograph, 1913/1914

It was later acquired by Knoedler's, who sold it to C. L. Freer in January 1914 for $2005.

Exhibitions

At Dowdeswell's in 1886 it was priced at £35. 11 It was grouped with a number of other small works approved of by the Illustrated London News, on 15 May 1886. However, it was the target selected by one journalist: 'he takes a small canvas, across the middle of which he draws a line, the top he fills in with grey supposed to be sky and sea – the lower half with a dirty drab ... Two or three smudges represent people sitting on the beach.' 12

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

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Newspapers 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 330).

2: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Second Series, Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1886 (cat. no. 43) (catalogue annotated by Whistler, GUL BP 11).

3: Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1887 (cat. no. 184).

4: III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1888 (cat. no. 63), priced £20 (GUL BP 25).

5: “Notes” – “Harmonies” – “Nocturnes”, H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, 1889 (cat. no. 27).

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 330).

7: Dempsey 1966 [more], p. 32.

8: Dr S. L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more].

9: Catalogue annotated by Whistler, GUL Whistler EC 1889.

10: Hermann Wunderlich and Co. to Whistler, April 1889, GUW #07175.

11: Catalogue annotated by Whistler, GUL Whistler EC 1886.

12: Undated press cutting, labelled 'Morning Post', in GUL Whistler BP III PC, p. 120.