James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), Symphony in Grey and Green:The Ocean, 1866, oil on canvas, The Frick Collection
Symphony in Grey and Green:
Whistler painted this work during a six-month stay in Valparaiso, Chile, then the site of a military conflict with Spain. The ships in the picture may allude to the blockade of the port city, but all specificity of time and
place is suppressed in favor of a serene palette and minimalist composition.
To render the rolling waters of the Pacific, Whistler dragged his brush from one
side of the canvas to the other, creating long ribbons of
muted tones. The imprint of the brush’s bristles in the
paint enhances the illusion of a rippling sea. Only later,
probably in 1872, did he add the leafy branches and
the cartouche that contains his butterfly monogram.
These motifs, which also appear in the portrait of
Mrs. Leyland, derive from Japanese woodblock prints.
The wave pattern on the resurfaced frame most likely
replicates Whistler’s original design.