About This Artwork

James McNeill Whistler
American, 1834–1903

Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southampton Water, 1872

Oil on canvas
50.5 × 76 cm (19 7/8 × 29 15/16 in.)
Signed lower right: (butterfly monogram)

Stickney Fund, 1900.52

“Art should be independent of all clap-trap—should stand alone and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear,” said the daringly unconventional painter James McNeill Whistler. Born in the United States, Whistler spent most of his adult life in Paris and London. To emphasize that his paintings have no narrative overtones—that they instead are aesthetic arrangements of color and shape on flat surfaces—he gave them titles derived from music, such as arrangement, symphony, and nocturne. One of his first such paintings, Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southampton Water, depicts a hazy, moonlit night on an inlet of the English Channel, southwest of London. Although the work is based on his experience of the location, the specifics of place are inconsequential. Instead, Whistler was interested in the subtle harmony of shades of blue, punctuated by touches of gold. By blurring and obscuring the shapes of the distant boats, he made color and form the primary focus of the painting. Often misunderstood and sometimes openly ridiculed when they were first exhibited, Whistler’s luminous nocturnal visions were forerunners of the experiments in abstraction that would follow in the next century.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

London, The Grosvenor Gallery, no. 106, 1882.

London, Goupil Gallery, Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, March-April 1892, no. 30.

Philadelphia, The Academy of Fine Arts, Late 1900 to about March 1, 1901.

Boston, Copley Hall, Oil Paintings, Watercolors, Pastels, and Drawings. Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, February 1904, no. 58.

London, The New Gallery, Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late James McNeill Whistler, February 22-April 15, 1905, no. 9.

Paris, Palais de L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Exposition des Oeuvres de James McNeill Whistler, May 1905, no. 67.

Cincinnati Art Museum, Seventeenth Annual Exhibition of American Art, May 21-July 20, 1910, no. 210.

Art Institute of Chicago, A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture Lent from American Collections, June 1-November 1, 1933, no. 489.

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Landscape Paintings, May 14-September 30, 1934, no. 76.

Art Institute of Chicago, Summer Exhibitions, July 20-October 29, 1939, no. 4.

Art Gallery of Toronto, Loan Exhibition of Great Paintings in Aid of Allied Merchant Seamen, February 5-March 5, 1944, no. 90.

New York, The William MacBeth Inc., Whistler Exhibition, April 17-May 14, 1947, no. 15.

Art Institute of Chicago, Cassatt, Sargent, and Whistler, January 14-February 25, 1954, no. 116; traveled to New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 25-May 23.

Peoria, Illinois, Lakeview Center for the Arts and Sciences, Two Hundred Years of American Painting, 1965, no catalogue numbers or page numbers but reproduced in black and white.

Art Institute of Chicago, James McNeill Whistler, January 13, 1968-February 25, 1968, Frederick A. Sweet, no. 20, p. 68; traveled to Utica, N.Y., Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, March 17, 1968-April 28, 1968.

Berlin, Nationalgalerie Staatliche Museen Preussicher Kulturbesitz, James McNeil Whistler (1834-1903), 1969, no. 31, p. 77.

Art Institute of Chicago, Art at The Time of the Centennial, June 19-August 8, 1976, no Catalogue or checklist published, as Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water.

Albi, France, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Trésors Impressionnistes du Musée de Chicago, June 27-August 31, 1980, Jean Devoisins, no. 59.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, In Pursuit of Beauty, Americans and the Aesthetic Movement, October 23, 1986-January 11, 1987, Doreen Bolger Burke, et al., fig. 9.20, ill. p. 333.

Nagaoka, Japan, Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Masterworks of Modern Art from the Art Institute of Chicago, April 20-May 29, 1994; traveled to Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, June 10-July 24; Yokohama Museum of Art, August 6-September 25, 1994.

London, Tate Gallery, James McNeill Whistler, October 13, 1994-January 8, 1995, Richard Dorment and Margaret F. MacDonald, cat. no. 48, ill. p. 125; traveled to Paris, Musée d’Orsay, February 6-April 30, 1995; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, May 28-August 20, 1995.

Art Institute of Chicago, Songs on Stone: James McNeill Whistler and the Art of Lithography, June 6-August 30, 1998; traveled to National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, October 2, 1998-January 3, 1999.

Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris "Proust" November 9, 1999-February 2, 2000.

Atlanta, High Museum of Art, After Whistler: The Artist and His Influence on American Painting, November 22, 2003-February 8, 2004, p. 106, ill.; Detroit Institute of Arts, March 13-June 6, 2004.

Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Turner Whistler Monet: Impressionist Visions, June 12-September 12, 2004, Katherine Lochnan, no. 44, ill.; traveled to Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, October 12, 2004-January 17, 2005; London, Tate Britain, February 10-May 15, 2005.

Art Institute of Chicago, "Whistler, Roussel: Linked Visions," June 20, 2015-September 27, 2015, online catalog.

Art Institute of Chicago, "Whistler's Mother: An American Icon Returns to Chicago," March 4-May 21, 2017, no cat.

Publication History

Elisabeth L. Cary, The Works of James McNeill Whistler: A Study with a Tentative List of the Artist’s Works, New York, 1907, no. 58, p. 165.

Bernhard Sickert, Whistler (London: Duckworth & Co., New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., n.d.), no. 77. p. 145, ill. p. 161.

Joseph and Elizabeth R. Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols. (London & Philadelphia, 1908), Vol. I, p. 167, Vol. II, ill. facing p. 108

Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, 3, 1910, p. 34.

James W. Lane, Whistler, New York, 1942, ill. p. 112.

Life Magazine, 36, May 17, 1954, pp. 9-95, ill.

Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection (Chicago, 1961), p. 483.

Denys Sutton, James McNeill Whistler: Paintings, Etchings, Pastels, and Watercolors (London: Phaidon Press, 1966), p. 192, pl. 83.

Donald Holden, Whistler Landscapes and Seascapes (New York, 1969), pp. 34-35, ill. p. 35, pl. 7.

Michael Edward Shapiro and Peter H. Hassrick, Frederic Remington, the Masterworks (Abrams, 1988), fig. 22, p. 49, ill.

Milo M. Naeve, “The Edwardian Era and Patrons of American Art at The Art Institute of Chicago: The Birth of a Tradition,” America’s International Exposition of Fine Arts and Antiques (Chicago: The Lakeside Group, 1988), fig. 2, p. 22, ill.

Tom Armstrong, “The New Field-McCormick Galleries in the Art Institute of Chicago, Magazine Antiques 134, 4 (October 1988), pp. 822-835, discussed p. 834, pl. XII p. 830.

Judith A. Barter et al, The Age of American Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2011), no. 13.

Leonard S. Marcus, "Randolph Caldecott:The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2013), (ill.).

"Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, Highlights of the Collection," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2017) p. 62.

Ownership History

Alfred Chapman, London, England, by 1892. H. Wunderlich and Co., New York, by 1900; sold to the Art Institute, 1900.

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