© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

In the late 1880s, Whistler produced many figure sketches on rough brown paper, enlivened with touches of vivid pastel. Studies like this one were inspired by ancient terracotta figurines of fashionable women wrapped in sometimes revealing drapery. A large number of such statuettes, known as Tanagras, had only recently been uncovered in Greece; Whistler was familiar with a group of them in a friend’s collection.

Whistler’s espousal of “art for art’s sake,” and his adoption of non-descriptive titles drawn from music (“Nocturne” and “Symphony”) for his works, were an inspiration for symbolist and decadent artists and writers. Novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848–1907) wrote that Whistler’s landscape paintings “transport the observer on magic carpets into times that have never been, regions that never were, suspended worlds, far from modern life, far from everything.”

Identification and Creation
Object Number
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American (Lowell, MA 1834 - 1903 London, England)
Frame by M. Grieve Co.
Girl in Transparent Drapery
Work Type
1885 - 1890
Physical Descriptions
Pastel on brown wove paper, mounted on board
27.9 x 18.2 cm (11 x 7 3/16 in.)
frame: 44.5 × 34.3 cm (17 1/2 × 13 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: Black and blue pastel, l.l.: butterfly monogram
  • inscription: verso, blue crayon: [at top center:] 9753; [at bottom center:] 2983
  • label: verso, printed in blue ink: partially torn label: ...Rue Ga... / ... l'Avenue de l'Opéra
Alphonse Kann; his sale to Grenville L. Winthrop through Martin Birnbaum, July 1927; his bequest to the Fogg Art Museum, 1943.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Theodore Duret, Histoire de J. McN. Whistler et de son Oeuvre., Henri Floury (Paris, France, 1904), reproduced, p. 123

Dorothy W. Gillerman, ed., Grenville L. Winthrop: Retrospective for a Collector, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, 1969), p. 243

Margaret F. MacDonald, James McNeill Whistler: Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours: A Catalogue Raisonné, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT and London, England, 1995), pp. 402 - 403, no. 1078, reproduced

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Virginia Anderson, and Kimberly Orcutt, ed., American Paintings at Harvard, Volume Two, Paintings, Drawings, Pastels and Stained Glass by Artists Born 1826-1856, Harvard Art Museums and Yale University Press (U.S.) (Cambridge, MA and New Haven, CT, 2008), p. 426-427, cat. no. 453, reproduced in b&w

Exhibition History

Flowers of Evil: Symbolist Drawings, 1870–1910, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu