James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Howth Head, near Dublin

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Howth Head, near Dublin
oil on panel
7 ¾ x 11 ¼ in. (19.7 x 28.5 cm.)
Painted in 1900.
The artist.
Miss Rosalind Birnie Philip, sister-in-law of the above, by bequest from the above, 1903.
Colnaghi & Co., London, acquired from the above, 1955.
Allan D. Pilkington, acquired from above.
Private collection.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1989.
A.M. Young, et al., The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven, Connecticut, 1980, p. 225, no. 538.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Symphony in Black and White: 100 Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, December 6, 2003-March 28, 2004.

Lot Essay

Howth Head, near Dublin epitomizes James McNeill Whistler's highly modern approach to painting, in which the artist exalts the aesthetic experience and emphasizes timelessness and beauty as the most important components of a work of art. Whistler is quoted as having written: "As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight." Howth Head, near Dublin exemplifies Whistler's aesthetic approach, allowing the viewer to revel in the rich harmonies of color and form.

Howth Head, near Dublin was painted in 1900 when Whistler stayed at a house called Craigie in Sutton, some six miles north of Dublin on a sandy spit of land connecting the Hill of Howth peninsula with the mainland. Although Whistler expressed keen disappointment with the weather, he did paint several oils there: A Head of a Child (whereabouts unknown), Grey and Gold: The Golden Bay, Ireland and Howth Head, near Dublin. In the present work, the view is from Howth, looking south-southwest across Dublin Bay to Dublin, which is obscured by distance, the cloudy weather and the city's smoky haze. Rising behind the city and blending into the overhanging cloud bank are Ireland's famous Wicklow Mountains.

In this view from Howth Head, Whistler divides the beach, sea and sky into stark horizontal registers, emphasizing each component of the design. Margaret MacDonald has noted: "[This painting] is closely related to the series of oils painted in Pourville in the late summer of 1899, including Green and Silver: The Great Sea (Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow) and The Sea Pourville, No. 2 (Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Ithaca, New York ) (YMSM, no. 518-9)…The colors are fine, the dark green and beige of the beach setting off the deep turquoise of the sea, with a distant streak of green where the sun catches the sea.” The simplicity and economy with which the artist achieves his desired effects of timelessness and beauty became hallmarks of his highly celebrated technique. The composition is wholly modern. Whistler has selected subtle tones to create an aesthetic ambiance that evokes the mysterious beauty of a cloudy day by the sea.

This work will be included in the forthcoming online revised catalogue raisonné being prepared by Professor Margaret MacDonald of the University of Glasgow.

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