Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
Oil on wood panel
H x W (painting): 50.1 × 68.5 cm (19 3/4 × 27 in) H x W (frame (F1905.329)): 76.1 × 93.3 cm (29 15/16 × 36 3/4 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

screen, ukiyo-e, United States

1864-Before 1892
James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), painted in 1864 [1]

By 1892-1904
Cyril Flower, The Lord Battersea (1843-1907), method of acquisition unknown [2]

Charles Lang Freer, purchased from The Lord Battersea, through William Merchant and Company, London [3]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer [4]


[1] See note 2.

[2] When Cyril Flower purchased the painting from Whistler remains unknown. However, Flowers owned it by 1892 when he loaned it to the Goupil Gallery's exhibition "Nocturnes, Marines, & Chevalet Pieces," see: Goupil Gallery, "Nocturnes, Marines, & Chevalet Pieces: Small Collection Kindly Lent by Their Owners" [exhibition catalogue] (London: Goupil Gallery, March 1892), no. 14. Flower sold the painting to Charles Lang Freer in 1904, see note 3.

[3] See Voucher No. 20, July 19, 1904, from Freer to Cyril Flower through William Merchant & Co, Box 112, Folder 9, Charles Lang Freer Papers, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, copy in object file.

[4] 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.

Research completed August 9, 2022.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Cyril Flower (C.L. Freer source) 1843-1907
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


In the mid-1860s Whistler undertook a series of works in which recognizably English models in exotic costumes are depicted as Japanese courtesans surrounded by objects from the artist’s personal collection of Asian art. Here, he presents the Irish model Joanna Hiffernan in the guise of a Japanese courtesan, contemplating a print from Utagawa Hiroshige’s Views of the Sixty-odd Provinces, an iconic series of meisho-e, or images of notable places. When Charles Lang Freer first saw this painting in 1902, he had acquired an impressive collection of Japanese prints and paintings as well as hundreds of works by Whistler. Freer declared that Caprice was “one of the most perfect things in composition and colouring in the whole range of Mr. Whistler’s art.”

Published References
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Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
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