Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso

James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903)
United States, 1866/ ca.1874
Oil on canvas
H x W: 76.4 x 50.7 cm
Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1909.127a-b
Whistler began this painting in 1866 on a trip to Chile, where he watched the Spanish navy attack the harbor at Valparaiso. This is one of a series of works done during the trip, an episode of Whistler’s biography that remains somewhat mysterious. This painting was originally conceived as a daylight scene, and its asymmetrical composition and flattened forms show the influence of Japanese prints. Whistler returned to the painting in the 1870s, and it was probably then that he transformed it into a Nocturne and gave it the present title. Whistler had called his earliest images of urban darkness “Moonlights.” But when his patron, Frederic Richards Leyland, suggested the musical term “Nocturnes,” Whistler was delighted: “I can’t thank you too much for the name “Nocturne,” he wrote. “You have no idea what an irritation it proves to the critics and consequent pleasure to me—besides it is really so charming and does so poetically say all I want to say and no more than I wish!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *