Four Butterflies

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
ca. 1890
Crayon on paper
H x W: 28.6 x 22.2 cm (11 1/4 x 8 3/4 in)
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


butterfly, United States

To 1904
Obach & Co., London, to 1904 [1]

From 1904 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Obach & Co. in 1904 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


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

[2] See note 1.

[3] 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)

Obach & Co. (C.L. Freer source)
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


These were drawn for publication in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. The top-left butterfly for p. 261 looks defiant and self-righteous. He was placed at the end of "Et Tu Brute," Whistler's angry response to his former friend, the poet Algernon Swinburne, who dared to criticize inconsistencies in the Ten O' Clock Lecture. The top right butterfly, with its gladiatorial stance, is similar to several illustrations but does not correspond to a published insect. The bottom-left butterfly appears on the title page of The Gentle Art. He is self-assured and entirely pleased with himself, setting the tone for the pages that will follow. Although the last figure on this sheet was abandoned, it relates to the butterfly diagonally opposite and may be an initial sketch.

Published References
  • Margaret F. MacDonald. James McNeill Whistler: Drawings, Pastels, and Watercolours : A Catalogue RaisonnĂ©. New Haven, 1995. .
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1984. p. 284, pl. 291.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Whistler's Neighborhood
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

Copyright with museum

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