Annabel Lee

Maker(s)
Artist: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
1885-1887
Medium
Drawing; chalk and pastel on brown paper
Dimensions
H x W (a - drawing): 32.3 Ă— 18 cm (12 11/16 Ă— 7 1/16 in)
Geography
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1905.129a-b
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Drawing
Type

Drawing

Keywords
ocean, United States, water, woman
Provenance

To 1905
Thomas Way Sr. (1827-1915), London, or Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913), London, to 1905 [1]

From 1905 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Thomas Way Sr. or Thomas Robert Way in 1905 [2]

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

Notes:

[1] See Original Whistler List, Paintings, pg. 31, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Thomas Way Sr. and his son, Thomas Robert Way, were lithographers who worked closely with Whistler on several of his projects. They helped with the printing of his etchings, as well as the printing of Whistler’s promotional materials. Both Thomas Way Sr. and Thomas Robert Way owned many Whistler works. Thomas Way Sr. acquired several of these works at the time of Whistler’s bankruptcy, and he passed some of them on to his son (see The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler, 1855-1903, ed. Margaret F. MacDonald, Patricia de Montfort and Nigel Thorp, On-line Edition, People, biographies of Thomas Way and Thomas Robert Way; http://www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk/correspondence).

Charles Lang Freer acquired many Whistler pieces from the Ways. However, museum records do not always specify whether it was the younger or elder Way who was the source of a particular object. Further, archival sources indicate that the junior Way sometimes acted on behalf of his father: whilst negotiating the sale of his own Whistler works to C.L. Freer, he would concurrently negotiate the sale of some of his father’s Whistler works to Freer. In cases where it is unclear whether it was the junior or senior Way who actually owned a piece acquired by C.L. Freer, the provenance record will simply state that the object was purchased from “Thomas Way Sr. or Thomas Robert Way.”

[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)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919

Label

When Freer purchased this drawing of a statuesque figure, he noted that the seller thought the subject was Niobe. The drawing has carried the title Annabel Lee since 1905. Both subjects are associated with the sense of death. Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus; she was turned to stone while bewailing the loss of her children.  Annabel Lee, who probably symbolized Edgar Allan Poe's young wife, also is lost:


For the moon never beams, with out bringing me dreams
of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
of the beautiful Annabel Lee:
And so, all the night tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling-my darling-my life and my bride,
in her sepulchre there by the sea-
in her tomb by the sounding sea.


The figure itself has marked affinities with the neoclassical works of Albert Moore. Like Degas's ballet dancers, Whistler's draped models continue to reappear, slightly varied and invested with new meaning. This figure has been generated from the woman in Variation in Blue and Green (F1903.178) and follows a similar color scheme. A shimmering inverted rainbow of blue and green gauze hangs behind the figure, separating the viewer from the space she occupies. Whistler's butterfly and a single violet iris balance the composition. With her head cast down and her back turned to us, the figure is as inaccessible and melancholy as she is beautiful. Whether the subject is Niobe or Annabel Lee is probably less important than our recognition of the painter's poetry: "The amazing invention that shall have put form and colour into such perfect harmony, that exquisiteness is the result."

Published References
  • Robert H. Getscher. Whistler and Venice. Ann Arbor. pl. 5.
  • Denys Sutton. James McNeill Whistler: Paintings, Etchings, Pastels & Watercolours. London, 1966. pl. 39.
  • Judith Elaine Gorder. James McNeill Whistler: A Study of the Oil Paintings 1855-1869. Ann Arbor. fig. 36.
  • Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Joseph Pennell. The Life of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols., London and Philadelphia. vol. 2, p. 92 (1908 ed.); p. 336 (1911 ed.).
  • Margaret F. MacDonald. James McNeill Whistler: Drawings, Pastels, and Watercolours : A Catalogue RaisonnĂ©. New Haven, 1995. .
  • Burns A. Stubbs. James McNeill Whistler: A Biographical Outline Illustrated from the Collections of the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 1, no. 4 Washington, 1950. pl. 17.
  • Weekly Books: Great Masters of Western Art. vol. 34, Odilon Redon. Japan. cat. 34, p. 19.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1984. pp. 29, 107, 243, pl. 215.
  • Charles Henry Caffin. The Art of James McNeill Whistler: Lecture at the Detroit Museum of Art. Detroit, Friday, April 23, 1909. p. 34.
  • James Warren Lane, Aimee Crane. Whistler. New York. p. 67.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler: Uneasy Pieces. Richmond and New York, 2004. p. 267, fig. 7.2.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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