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James McNeill Whistler collection, 1863-1906, circa 1940

Whistler, James McNeill, 1834-1903

Painter, Etcher

This site provides access to the James McNeill Whistler collection in the Archives of American Art that was digitized in 2012. The collection has been scanned in entirety, and totals 307 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 0.2 linear ft.

Summary: The collection measures 0.2 linear feet and provides scattered documentation of the career of American-born, British-based painter and etcher James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) through 39 items from Whistler to various recipients, including 25 letters, 9 telegraphs, 3 invitations, one thank you card, and a postcard. The collection also contains 4 letters from others, 7 catalogs of Whistler exhibitions, a note from the back of Whistler's painting, "The Beach at Selsey Bill," and a 1906 copy of, "Wilde v. Whistler: being an acrimonious correspondence on art between Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler," a pamphlet containing letters originally published in London newspapers between 1885 and 1890.
The Whistler letters found here touch on some important events in Whistler's career. One letter to George Lucas, an American art dealer in Paris, discusses his plans to send, "Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl," to the Paris Salon of 1863. Rejected by the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1862, the painting was also refused by the Paris Salon but shown ultimately in the landmark exhibition at the Salon des Refusés.
Also found are a circa 1879 letter to the eldest son of Robert E. Lee, General George Washington Custis Lee, with whom Whistler had been a cadet at West Point, recommending sculptor Joseph Boehm for an equestrian statue for memorializing Lee and expressing Whistler's veneration for the Confederate general; a circa 1880 letter from Whistler, written during his 14 months in Venice, to Katharine de Kay Bronson, who presided over the expatriate community there; 2 circa 1892-1893 letters documenting Whistler's determination to pursue Sheridan Ford through the courts in response to Ford's publication of a contraband version of Whistler's book ,"The Gentle Art of Making Enemies;" and a circa 1897 letter to J. W. Beck, sent in response to Beck's request on behalf of the Royal Academy that he exhibit with the British contingent at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In the letter Whistler insults Sir Frederic Leighton, the Royal Academy's president, retaliating against previous slights including having his paintings hung well above eye-level, or "skied".
Although few, if any, records survive about the creation of The Company of the Butterfly, a syndicate established in 1897 for selling Whistler's work, the collection contains one letter from Christine Anderson, the secretary of the Company, to one of its first clients, Herbert Charles Pollitt.
The collection also contains an 1883 invitation from Whistler to Dr. Swan Burnett and his wife, children's author Frances Hodgson Burnett, to view etchings and drypoints and a note written by Whistler and signed with the butterfly, taken from the back of the painting Beach at Selsey Bill (1865).
Seven catalogs dating from 1892-1910 and circa 1940 document Whistler exhibitions in London and the United States.
Seven of the Whistler items are signed with his butterfly signature and all letters sent after his wife's death in May 1896 are on mourning stationary.

Biographical/Historical Note

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was a painter who lived and worked in both Paris and London.


The collection was compiled from a series of accessions donated between 1959 and 2003. Most of the items in the collection were given to the Archives of American Art by Charles Feinberg in 1959. The pamphlet Wilde v. Whistler was donated by Mrs. Lois Field in 1964 and an invitation to Dr. and Mrs. Burnett was donated by Martha Fleischman in 2003.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.