Within the tight confines of a wooden panel, James MacNeill Whistler harnessed the power of the sea. Late in the summer of 1893, at the end of an extended stay in Brittany, Whistler and his wife spent time in Bréhat, a small fishing island off the rugged, northernmost coast. According to a letter to his picture restorer, Whistler painted Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers from a boat “out in full sea”; he feared that there was residue of salt spray on the surface. The uncharacteristically thick strokes and heavy impasto—notably in the depiction of the long, swelling waves or “rollers”—as well as the small dimensions of the panel and the limited color palette, confirm his claim. Although working quickly, Whistler conveyed the full scope of the experience: roiling, deep blue waves breaking into white crests under the violet clouds of a volatile, late summer sky.

From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American, 1834-1903
  • Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers
Date ca. 1893
Medium Oil on panel
Dimensions Overall: 7 × 10 inches (17.8 × 25.4 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund
Accession Number 2006.87
Department American Art before 1950
On View American W285, Level 2 (see map)
2006-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)