Symphony in White and Red

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
ca. 1868
Oil on millboard mounted on wood panel
H x W: 46.8 x 61.8 cm (18 7/16 x 24 5/16 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

boat, United States, woman

From 1903 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from the artist in 1903 [1]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [2]


[1] See Original Whistler List, Paintings, pg. 8, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Purchased in July 1903.

[2] 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)

James McNeill Whistler (C.L. Freer source) 1834-1903
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


This oil sketch is part of a group of similar works later collectively titled the Six Projects by Charles Lang Freer. It dates from a period when Whistler undertook a self-imposed process of artistic reeducation. By borrowing freely from Japanese prints, classical Greek sculpture, and French eighteenth-century rococo painting, Whistler hoped to liberate his art from the chains of narrative realism. His use of chromatic and musical titles suggests that the decorative interplay of colors, rather than a particular story or moral, is key to the work’s content. Whistler later explained that they were the result of the “profound analysis on which the Japanese produce their extraordinary colour-harmonies,” woven through a composition, he said, like threads in embroidery.

Published References
  • Hilary Taylor. James McNeill Whistler. New York. pl. 32.
  • Judith Elaine Gorder. James McNeill Whistler: A Study of the Oil Paintings 1855-1869. Ann Arbor. fig. 60.
  • 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. 47.
  • Anna Gruetzner. A Fragile Modernism: Whistler and His Impressionist Followers. New Haven and London, 2007. fig. 20.
  • Grace Dunham Guest. Whistler: The Artist and the Man. Smithsonian Institution Radio Program, vol. 10, no. 3 New York. p. 13.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1984. pp. 44, 108, pl. 9.
  • Elizabeth Prettejohn. Art for Art's Sake: Aestheticism in Victorian Painting. p. 61.
  • Robin Spencer. Japonisme in Art: An International Symposium., 1st ed. Tokyo, 1980. p. 69.
  • Linda Merrill. The Peacock Room: A Cultural Biography. Washington and New Haven. p. 94, fig. 2.15.
  • Humans: Terra Foundation Essays. Vol. 5, Chicago, IL, January 2022. p. 113 and 117, fig. 2.
  • Bernhard Sickert. Whistler. London and New York. cat. 34, p. 154.
  • Elisabeth Luther Cary. The Works of James McNeill Whistler: A Study., 1st ed. New York, 1907. cat. 20, p. 158.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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