Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
probably 1885
Oil on wood panel
H x W: 12.5 x 21.7 cm (4 15/16 x 8 9/16 in)
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Oil painting

ocean, United States, water

Dowdeswell's, London, 1886 [1]

H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, NY, 1889 [2]

To 1914
M. Knoedler & Co., New York, NY, to 1914 [3]

From 1914 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from M. Knoedler & Co., New York, NY, in January 1914 [4]

From 1920
The Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [5]


[1] Object file, Exhibition history.

[2] See note 1. Also, see Curatorial Remark 2, C. L. Freer, in the object record which states "From the exhibition of Whistler's work at Wunderlich's Gallery, 1889."

[3] Undated folder sheet note. See Original Whistler List, Purchases since making up the Smithsonian Inventory, p. 15, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[4] See note 3.

[5] 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)

M. Knoedler & Co. (C.L. Freer source)
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
H. Wunderlich & Co. 1874-1912
Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell 1878-1912


Whistler completed this painting in Dieppe, probably in the fall of 1885. He must have valued it highly, because he sent it to exhibitions in London (1886), Paris (1887), and New York (1889). Many reviewers were less impressed. After seeing the Paris exhibition, one unsympathetic writer complained that the provocatively sketchy and abstract painting was a mere "eccentricity"-an "incomprehensible amusement." Whistler "draws a line" across the middle of the panel, this same critic continued, "the top he fills in with grey-supposed to be sky and sea-the lower half with a dirty drab: this he entitles 'Grey and Brown: The Beach.' Two or three smudges represent people sitting on the beach; and there you are, don't you know!"

Quotation from the London Morning Post, c. May 10, 1887, in Whistler Press Cutting Book, III, p. 120, Birnie Philip Collection, Glasgow University Library.

Published References
  • Hilary Taylor. James McNeill Whistler. New York. pl. 96.
  • 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. 221.
  • Donald Holden. Whistler Landscapes and Seascapes. New York. p. 85, pl. 32.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1984. p. 142, pl. 47.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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