The White Symphony: Three Girls

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
ca. 1868
Oil on millboard mounted on wood panel
H x W: 46.4 x 61.6 cm (18 1/4 x 24 1/4 in)
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Oil painting

plant, United States

To 1902
Thomas Way Sr. (1837-1915), London, to 1902 [1]

From 1902 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Thomas Way Sr., through William S. Marchant and Co., London, in 1902 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] See Original Whistler List, Paintings, pg. 6, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Thomas Way Sr. was the father of Thomas Robert Way.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Thomas Way Sr. (C.L. Freer source) 1837-1915
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


This work is a study for a never-completed painting called The Three Girls that was intended to hang opposite The Princess from the Land of Porcelain in the Peacock Room, which was originally a dining room in the home of Whistler’s patron, Frederick Richards Leyland. Whistler envisioned the painting as the fourth of his “White Symphonies.” It was undertaken when he was exploring a range of artistic sources and seeking a distinctive signature style. By borrowing freely from Japanese prints, classical Greek sculpture, eighteenth-century Rococo painting, and the neoclassicism of his own time, Whistler hoped to liberate his art from the chains of narrative realism and Victorian morality.

Published References
  • Susan Hobbs. Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. vol. 120, no. 5 New York, November 1981. pl. 5.
  • Geneva Frances Morgan Tilleux. The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, 1857-1873. Ann Arbor. fig. 47.
  • Hilary Taylor. James McNeill Whistler. New York. pl. 33.
  • Judith Elaine Gorder. James McNeill Whistler: A Study of the Oil Paintings 1855-1869. Ann Arbor. fig. 58.
  • , (Introduction) Elizabeth Robins Pennell, (Introduction) Joseph Pennell. James McNeill Whistler. Distinguished American artists New York, 1924. pl. 20.
  • Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Joseph Pennell. The Life of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols., London and Philadelphia. vol. 1 pp. 147-149, vol.2 p. 130.
  • Andrew McLaren Young, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer. The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler. Studies in British Art 2 vols. New Haven, 1980. vol. 2: pl. 62.
  • Burns A. Stubbs. Paintings, Pastels, Drawings, Prints, and Copper Plates by and Attributed to American and European Artists, Together with a List of Original Whistleriana, in the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 1, no. 2, 2nd ed. Washington, 1967. pl. 22.
  • Patricia de Montfort, Clare Willsdon. Whistler And Nature. Exh. cat. London, England. p. 7 and p. 89, fig. 49.
  • Bunkio Matsuki. James A. McNeill Whistler: In Memoriam. vol. 5. p. 9.
  • Grace Dunham Guest. Whistler: The Artist and the Man. Smithsonian Institution Radio Program, vol. 10, no. 3 New York. p. 13.
  • David Fraser Jenkins, Avis Berman. Whistler, Sargent and Steer: Impressionists in London from the Tate Collections. Exh. cat. Nashville, Tennessee. p. 15, fig. 6.
  • Thomas Robert Way, G. R. Dennis. The Art of James McNeill Whistler: An Appreciation by T.R. Way and G.R. Dennis. London, 1903. pp. 25-26, 30-32, 100.
  • Deborah Gribbon. Whistler's sketch of an unfinished symphony. Boston. pp. 26-33, fig. 2.
  • Thomas Robert Way. Memories of James McNeill Whistler, the artist. London. pp. 26-28.
  • James McNeill Whistler in Context: Essays from the Whistler Centenary Symposium, University of Glasgow, 2003. vol. 2, 1st ed. Washington, 2008. p. 26, fig. 2.4.
  • Linda Merrill. A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler v. Ruskin. Washington and London. p. 28, fig. 15.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1984. pp. 28, 45, 109, pl. 11.
  • With Kindest Regards: The Correspondence of Charles Lang Freer and James McNeill Whistler 1890-1903. Washington. p. 30, fig. 10.
  • Thomas Lawton, Linda Merrill. Freer: a legacy of art. Washington and New York, 1993. p. 36, fig. 23.
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, Department of Art History and Archaeology of Columbia University. From Realism to Symbolism, Whistler and his World. Exh. cat. New York and Philadelphia. p. 44.
  • Ayako Ono. Japonisme in Britain: Whistler, Menpes, Henry, Hornel, and Nineteenth-Century Japan. London and New York, 2003. p. 51, fig. 2.9.
  • John Sandberg. Whistler Studies. New York, March 1968. pp. 59-64.
  • Elizabeth Prettejohn. Art for Art's Sake: Aestheticism in Victorian Painting. p. 60.
  • Denys Sutton. Nocturne: The Art of James McNeill Whistler. Philadelphia and New York, 1964. p. 83.
  • Allen Staley. The Condition of Music. vol. 33 New York. p. 85.
  • Linda Merrill. The Peacock Room: A Cultural Biography. Washington and New Haven. p. 86, fig. 2.7.
  • Susan Hobbs. A Connoisseur's Vision of America: The American Collection of Charles Lang Freer., August 1977. p. 90.
  • Susan Grace Galassi, Margaret F. MacDonald, Aileen Ribeiro. Whistler, Women, and Fashion. Exh. cat. New Haven and New York, April 22 - July 13, 2003. p. 98, fig. 90.
  • Musée d’Orsay, The Frick Collection. James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Chefs-d'œuvre de la Frick Collection, New York. Exh. cat. Paris, France, January 2022. p. 116, plate 78.
  • Laurie Schneider Adams. The Making and Meaning of Art. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. p. 124, fig. 6.26.
  • Margaret F. MacDonald, Patricia de Montfort, Pamela Robertson, Lee Glazer. James McNeill Whistler Retrospective. Exh. cat. Tokyo, 2014. p. 150, fig. 36.
  • Bernhard Sickert. Whistler. London and New York. cat. 31, p. 154.
  • Elisabeth Luther Cary. The Works of James McNeill Whistler: A Study., 1st ed. New York, 1907. cat. 19, p. 158.
  • The New Painting of the 1860s. New Haven and London. p. 175, fig. 155.
  • Kenyon Cox. Old Masters and New: essays in art criticism. Freerport, New York. p. 236.
  • William Michael Rossetti. The Rossetti Papers. London. p. 320.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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