James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Study in Rose and Brown, ca. 1884
Oil on canvas
20 x 12 1/4 in. (50.8 x 31.1 cm)
Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon, MI

Subject and style

Study in Rose and Brown is also referred to as A Study in Brown. [1] Unlike Whistler’s full-length portraits, this study truncates the sitter’s body at the waist. The brushstrokes are looser than in other works by the artist, giving the work a slightly unfinished feel.

To the Armory Show

Though he lived and worked in London, by 1913 Whistler’s career was well-established on both sides of the Atlantic, and major American collectors and museums were acquiring his work. [2] Study in Rose and Brown was one of four paintings by Whistler that were included in the Armory Show. They hung in Gallery P alongside other nineteenth-century works as part of the display of historical art. Whistler, like the American artists Albert Pinkham Ryder, John Twatchman, and Theodore Robinson, was positioned in the Armory Show as an American precursor to the modernist styles that would be on view in the nearby contemporary galleries.

The response

Perhaps because they were part of the historical section of the exhibition, Whistler’s works received very little contemporary critical attention. The notoriously conservative critic Kenyon Cox referred to the Whistler works displayed at the Armory as “not of the best,” though a review in the New York Evening Post characterized Study in Rose and Brown as a “beautiful low-key harmony, exquisitely delicate in its reticent, discreet color arrangement.” [3]


In 1914 the dealer William Macbeth sold Study in Rose and Brown to Raymond Wyer, the director of the Muskegon Museum of Art, for $6,750, below the asking price of $8,500 that it carried at the Armory Show. Despite the discounted price, the overseers of the Museum were scandalized by such an extravagant purchase, and the ensuing controversy eventually forced Wyer’s resignation as director. [4]

[1] Raymond Wyer, “James McNeill Whistler,” Aesthetics 2 (October, 1913-July 1914), 34. See also Andrew Young, The Paintings of James M. Whistler (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), 153.

[2] The first painting by Whistler to enter a public collection was Arrangement in Black [Lady with the Yellow Buskin] in 1895 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Many other institutions followed suit, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1896.

[3] Kenyon Cox, “The ‘Modern’ Spirit in Art,” Harper’s Weekly, March 15, 1913; and “International Art,” New York Evening Post, February 22, 1913, 5.

[4] “Wyer to resign position,” Muskegon Chronicle, October 9, 1915, 1.

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