The Angry Sea

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
1883 or 1884
Oil on wood panel
H x W: 12.4 x 21.7 cm (4 7/8 x 8 9/16 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

ocean, United States, water

To 1904
John James Cowan (1846-1936), Edinburgh, Scotland, to 1904 [1]

From 1904 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from John James Cowan, through William Marchant and Co, London, in June 1904 [2]

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


[1] See Original Whistler List, Paintings, pg. 12, 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) and Custodian(s)

John James Cowan (C.L. Freer source) 1846-1936
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


The Angry Sea is one of the sparest and most abstract of Whistler's small oils. When Whistler exhibited it at the Dowdeswells' gallery in 1884, unsympathetic reviewers complained that paintings like this were mere daubs, dismissing such efforts as unfinished sketches not fit for public display. The fashion writer for the Court Circular damned The Angry Sea with ironic praise, noting that "this wonderful artist uses frames of greenish gold wherever the picture requires such a setting. A strip of angry grey-green sea, framed in green gold, against dull pink background [the color of the gallery walls] is an exquisite arrangement of colour."

Quotation from "Causerie," Court Circular, May 24, 1884.

Published References
  • Richard Gilman. American Abroad. vol. 12, no. 6 New York, October 1961. vol. 12: p. 25, no. 6.
  • Hilary Taylor. James McNeill Whistler. New York. pl. 22.
  • Denys Sutton. James McNeill Whistler: Paintings, Etchings, Pastels & Watercolours. London, 1966. pl. 82.
  • Denys Sutton. Nocturne: The Art of James McNeill Whistler. Philadelphia and New York, 1964. fig. 50.
  • 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. 189.
  • Anna Gruetzner. A Fragile Modernism: Whistler and His Impressionist Followers. New Haven and London, 2007. .
  • Oswald Sickert. The oil paintings of Whistler. vol. 30, no. 127 London, October 15, 1903. p. 14.
  • Unknown title. vol. 21, no. 81 New York, November 1903. p. 15.
  • Kenneth Myers. Mr. Whistler's Gallery: Pictures at an 1884 Exhibition. Washington. cat. 4, p. 30.
  • David Tovey, Tate St. Ives. St. Ives Art pre-1890: The Dawn of the Colony. Exh. cat. Tewkesbury. p. 57.
  • Donald Holden. Whistler Landscapes and Seascapes. New York. p. 57, pl. 18.
  • Untitled. vol. 43, no. 2 Philadelphia, February 1936. p. 58.
  • James Warren Lane, Aimee Crane. Whistler. New York. p. 58.
  • Thomas Robert Way, G. R. Dennis. The Art of James McNeill Whistler: An Appreciation by T.R. Way and G.R. Dennis. London, 1903. p. 62.
  • Susan Hobbs. A Connoisseur's Vision of America: The American Collection of Charles Lang Freer., August 1977. p. 96.
  • Anne Helmreich. Nature's Truth: Photography, Painting, and Science in Victorian Britain. University Park, Pennsylvania. p. 114, fig. 34.
  • Mortimer Menpes. Whistler As I Knew Him. London. p. 116.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1984. p. 140, pl. 44.
  • Tom Prideaux. The World of Whistler, 1834-1903. New York, 1970. pp. 180-181.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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