The White Lilacs

Artist: Willard Metcalf (1858-1925)
Historical period(s)
Oil on canvas
H x W: 73.8 x 83.8 cm (29 1/16 x 33 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

night, United States

From 1918 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925), New York, on November 30, 1918 [1]

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


[1] Object file.

[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)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Willard Metcalf 1858-1925


This portrait of the Robert Follett Gerrish House in Kittery Point, Maine, is one of a number of nocturnal paintings, or "moonlights," that Metcalf produced after 1906. These romantic pictures of New England houses at night were popular with the public, yet Metcalf painted only a few, as he found them extraordinarily difficult to complete. In 1918 he wrote to Freer that he had one of the rare and precious works in his studio--a painting of "an old house partly in shadow, with white lilacs in bloom," which he had begun several years earlier but finished only that season.  Freer readily agreed to buy The White Lilacs and when it reached him in Detroit he declared it a masterpiece.  When seen among works of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Chinese art in his collection, the moonlight appeared to Freer "perfectly at home," and he wrote Metcalf a gracious letter expressing the wish that the artist were there "to enjoy its beauty and to feel its relationship to Far Eastern productions."

Published References
  • Marian Sleeman Gerrish Craig, Peter E. Randall Publisher. Two if by Sea: The Prodigy of the Piscataqua River: The Follets of Kittery Point. Portsmouth, NH. p. 36 and back cover.
  • Elizabeth de Veer, Richard J. Boyle. Sunlight and Shadow: The Life and Art of Willard L. Metcalf., 1st ed. New York. pp. 83, 88, 126, 228, 239, 241, fig. 283.
  • Ann C. Gunter. A Collector's Journey: Charles Lang Freer and Egypt. Washington and London, 2002. p. 142, fig. 5.12.
  • Thomas Lawton, Linda Merrill. Freer: a legacy of art. Washington and New York, 1993. p. 199, fig. 136.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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