Variations in Flesh Colour and Green – The Balcony

Four women on a balcony overlooking the river.
Signature at lower left.

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
1864-1870; additions 1870-1879
Oil on wood panel
H x W (painting): 61.4 × 48.5 cm (24 3/16 × 19 1/8 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

balcony, kimono, lute, model, ukiyo-e, United States

G.G. Cavafy, purchased from the artist, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) [1]

To 1892
H. Wunderlich & Co., New York to 1892 [2]

From 1892 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from H. Wunderlich & Co. in 1892 [3]

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


[1] See Curatorial Remarks 3 and 4, S. Hobbs, 1977, in the object record.

[2] See Original Whistler List, Etchings, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[3] See note 2.

[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.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

G. G. Cavafy
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
H. Wunderlich & Co. (C.L. Freer source) 1874-1912


Four women on a balcony overlooking the river.
Signature at lower left.


A pivotal work in Whistler's oeuvre, this painting stands between his fanciful costume works such as Caprice in Purple and Gold and the more fully realized synthesis of Japanese art evident in the Nocturnes of the 1870s. English models dressed in kimonos pose on a balcony overlooking the river Thames and the industrial neighbourhood of Battersea on the opposite shore. The factory smokestacks are veiled in atmospheric mist, and the adjacent slag heap (a monument of industrial waste) evokes images of Mount Fuji by Japanese artists Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai. Butterflies, a symbol of metamorphosis, link the foreground fantasy to the real world beyond the balcony. Beginning with this painting, Whistler signed his work with a butterfly instead of his name, thereby linking himself and Victorian London to imaginative visions of Japan.

Published References
  • Helen Nebeker Tomlinson. West Meets East: Charles L. Freer Trailblazing Asian Art Collector. Herndon, Virginia. Insert p. 7.
  • Anton Sailer. James McNeill Whistler in der Freer Gallery of Art zu Washington. .
  • Léonce Bénédite. L'œuvre de James MacNeill Whistler: quarante reproductions de chefs-d'œuvre du maître, réunis à l'occasion de l'exposition commémorative organisée à Paris, au palais de l'École nationale des beaux-arts. Exh. cat. Paris. pl. 12.
  • Geneva Frances Morgan Tilleux. The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, 1857-1873. Ann Arbor. fig. 29.
  • Susan Hobbs. Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. vol. 120, no. 5 New York, November 1981. pl. III.
  • Hilary Taylor. James McNeill Whistler. New York. pl. 34.
  • Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow. Glasgow University's pictures: a selection of paintings, drawings, prints, and other works from the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow. Exh. cat. London. .
  • Christian Brinton. Masterpieces of American Painting: A Selection of Photogravures after Paintings Exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, Berlin, 1910. Exh. cat. New York. pl. 53.
  • Judith Elaine Gorder. James McNeill Whistler: A Study of the Oil Paintings 1855-1869. Ann Arbor. fig. 52.
  • Robin Spencer. Japonisme in Art: An International Symposium., 1st ed. Tokyo, 1980. pl. 1.
  • Denys Sutton. James McNeill Whistler: Paintings, Etchings, Pastels & Watercolours. London, 1966. pls. 44, 46.
  • Tom Prideaux. The World of Whistler, 1834-1903. New York, 1970. p. 94.
  • James McNeill Whistler. Nocturnes, Marines, & Chevalet Pieces: Small Collection Kindly Lent by Their Owners. London, 1892. pl. 7.
  • , (Introduction) Elizabeth Robins Pennell, (Introduction) Joseph Pennell. James McNeill Whistler. Distinguished American artists New York, 1924. pl. 13.
  • 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. 52.
  • Burns A. Stubbs. Paintings, Pastels, Drawings, Prints, and Copper Plates by and Attributed to American and European Artists, Together with a List of Original Whistleriana, in the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 1, no. 2, 2nd ed. Washington, 1967. pl. 18.
  • Bunkio Matsuki. James A. McNeill Whistler: In Memoriam. vol. 5. p. 5.
  • Eric Denker. Japanese Prints and Western Art. Washington, Summer 2005. p. 6.
  • Whistler Memorial Exhibition, by a member of the Copley society. pp. 7-9.
  • James McNeill Whistler in Context: Essays from the Whistler Centenary Symposium, University of Glasgow, 2003. vol. 2, 1st ed. Washington, 2008. p. 9, fig. 1.7.
  • Grace Dunham Guest. Whistler: The Artist and the Man. Smithsonian Institution Radio Program, vol. 10, no. 3 New York. p. 13.
  • Christian Brinton. Whistler from Within. vol. 36. p. 16.
  • Ideals of Beauty: Asian and American Art in the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Thames and Hudson World of Art London and Washington, 2010. pp. 16-17.
  • John Clarence Webster. Whistler and the Art of the Orient. p. 20.
  • Jun Kaneko. Madama Butterfly. p. 22, fig. 7.
  • Theodore Reff. Degas: The Artist's Mind. New York. p. 28.
  • Margaret F. MacDonald. Whistler's Mother: An American Icon. p. 28, fig. 28.
  • Thomas Robert Way. Memories of James McNeill Whistler, the artist. London. p. 29.
  • Linda Merrill. A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler v. Ruskin. Washington and London. p. 29, fig. 16.
  • Thomas Lawton, Linda Merrill. Freer: a legacy of art. Washington and New York, 1993. p. 31, fig. 18.
  • Michael Howard. Whistler: The History and Techniques of the Great Masters. Secaucus, New Jersey. pp. 34-37.
  • Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Joseph Pennell. The Art of Whistler. New York. p. 35.
  • Robin Spencer. James McNeill Whistler. British Artists. p. 40.
  • Charles Henry Caffin. American Masters of Painting: Being Brief Appreciations of Some American Painters. Garden City, N.Y. p. 45.
  • Arts Council of Great Britain. James McNeill Whistler: an exhibition of paintings and other works. Exh. cat. London. p. 46.
  • With Kindest Regards: The Correspondence of Charles Lang Freer and James McNeill Whistler 1890-1903. Washington. p. 49, pl. 1.
  • Ayako Ono. Japonisme in Britain: Whistler, Menpes, Henry, Hornel, and Nineteenth-Century Japan. London and New York, 2003. p. 50, fig. 2.8.
  • Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Joseph Pennell. The Life of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols., London and Philadelphia. p. 52.
  • Sadakichi Hartmann. The Whistler Book: A Monograph of the Life and Position in Art of James McNeill Whister, Together with a Careful Study of His More Important Works. Boston. p. 54.
  • Nichols Clark. Charles Lang Freer: An American Aesthete in the Gilded Era. vol. 11, no. 4 New York, October 1979. pp. 54-68, fig. 11.
  • Linda Merrill. The Peacock Room: A Cultural Biography. Washington and New Haven. p. 57, fig. 1.11.
  • Susan Grace Galassi, Margaret F. MacDonald, Aileen Ribeiro. Whistler, Women, and Fashion. Exh. cat. New Haven and New York, April 22 - July 13, 2003. p. 65, fig. 63.
  • H. Granville Fell. Memories of Whistler: II. Patrons as Profiteers. London, February 1935. pp. 74-76.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1984. pp. 79, 106, fig. 200, pl. 6.
  • Susan Hobbs. A Connoisseur's Vision of America: The American Collection of Charles Lang Freer., August 1977. p. 91.
  • Albert Ten Eyck. Gardner. Winslow Homer, American Artist: His World and His Work., 1st ed. New York, 1961. p. 105.
  • Michael Komanecky. The Folding Image: Screens by Western Artists of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Exh. cat. New Haven, 1984. p. 106, fig. 117.
  • Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Joseph Pennell. The Life of James McNeill Whistler., rev. ed. London and Philadelphia. p. 108.
  • James Laver. Whistler., 2nd ed. London. p. 114.
  • Musée d’Orsay, The Frick Collection. James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Chefs-d'œuvre de la Frick Collection, New York. Exh. cat. Paris, France, January 2022. p. 117, plate 79.
  • Gerald Needham. Japonisme: Japanese Influence on French Art, 1854-1910. Exh. cat. Cleveland. p. 123.
  • John Wilmerding. Signs of the Artist: Signatures and Self-Expression in American Paintings. p. 125, fig. 99.
  • Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Joseph Pennell. The Whistler Journal. Philadelphia, 1921. p. 137.
  • , no. 39 Lexington, Massachusetts, 2018. p. 139, fig. 9.
  • Katharine Lochnan. Turner Whistler Monet. London. p. 141, fig. 50.
  • Margaret F. MacDonald, Patricia de Montfort, Pamela Robertson, Lee Glazer. James McNeill Whistler Retrospective. Exh. cat. Tokyo, 2014. p. 145, fig. 34.
  • Léonce Bénédite. Artistes Contemporains: Whistler. vol. 34, June 1905. p. 145.
  • Bernhard Sickert. Whistler. London and New York. cat. 30, p. 154.
  • Alan Robinson. Imagining London, 1770-1900. p. 158, fig. 31.
  • Elisabeth Luther Cary. The Works of James McNeill Whistler: A Study., 1st ed. New York, 1907. cat. 37, p. 161.
  • Elizabeth Prettejohn. Art for Art's Sake: Aestheticism in Victorian Painting. p. 171.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler: Uneasy Pieces. Richmond and New York, 2004. p. 173, fig. 5.9.
  • John Vollmer. Re-envisioning Japan: Meiji Fine Art Textiles. Milan, Italy. p. 174.
  • Albert von Dreyfus. James A. McNeill Whistler. Munich. pp. 201-220.
  • William Michael Rossetti. The Rossetti Papers. London. pp. 228-229.
  • Kenyon Cox. Old Masters and New: essays in art criticism. Freerport, New York. pp. 237-240.
  • Walker J. McSpadden. Famous Painters of America. New York. pp. 267-268.
  • Basil Gray. Japonisme and Whistler. vol. 107. p. 324.
  • Tom Prideaux. The Lady of the Portrait. vol. 134. p. 324.
  • William F. Losee. James McNeill Whistler, the painter. p. 329.
  • Theodore Child. American artists at the Paris Exhibition. vol. 79, no. 472, 1889. p. 491.
  • John Sandberg. Japonisme and Whistler. vol. 106. p. 504.
  • Whistler. The great artists: their lives, works and inspiration, vol. 19 London. p. 587.
  • William B. Sieger. Whistler and John Chandler Bancroft. pp. 675-682.
  • Toshio Watanabe. Eight prints in Whistler's studio? Eighteenth-century Japanese prints in the West before 1870. vol. CXXVIII. p. 877.
  • John Charles Van Dyke. Retrospective Exhibition of Society of American Artists. vol. 36. p. 1211.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
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