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[James McNeill Whistler.
Nocturne.]

Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection of Whistleriana

Graphic art and papers of James McNeill Whistler; photographs, publications, and research materials relating to his life

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Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell were introduced to James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) after their move to London in 1884. As their friendship grew, the Pennells began collecting literary and biographical information on Whistler and were asked by the artist to write his biography. Whistler himself contributed notes and suggestions. The Life of James McNeill Whistler (Philadelphia: J. B. Lipincott Co.; London: W. Heinemann, 1908) was issued following an unsuccessful suit by the executrix of Whistler's estate, Rosalind Birnie Philip, to prevent its publication. The Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection of Whistleriana was presented to the Library in 1917. The Pennells' bequest brought additional items to the collection and provided for its continued growth through an acquisition fund.

All nonmanuscript items from the Pennell gift are kept in the Prints and Photographs Division. The collection includes catalogs documenting exhibitions at which Whistler showed his work, reproductions of Whis tler's paintings, biographical photographs, books, and pamphlets. The Pennells donated most of the 300 Whistler lithographs, etchings, and drypoints recorded in the fine prints card catalog and listed in American Prints in the Library of Congress: A Catalog of the Collection, (Baltimore: Published for the Library of Congress by the Johns Hopkins Press, 1970) compiled by Karen F. Beall and others. Also in the collection are twenty original pen and pencil sketches.

Kept as a separate unit within the Pennells' personal papers is their collection of Whistler manuscripts. Probably the most comprehensive archival record of Whistler's career, the collection includes autograph records, transcript copies of correspondence, legal materials from the Whistler-Ruskin trial, plans for the proposed Whistler memorial, an extensive file of clippings from the period 1886 to 1937, and the diary (1950) and letters of Anna Mathilda Whistler, the artist's mother. Of particular interest are Whistler's letters to David Croal Thomson regarding the 1892 exhibition at the Goupil Gallery which brought Whistler international recognition. The Manuscript Division has prepared a finding aid which describes Whistler material within the 96,600 item collection.

Note: Information for this entry was compiled in the late 1970's for inclusion in: Special Collections in the Library of Congress: A Selective Guide. Compiled by Annette Melville. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1980. The entry has not been revised.


U.S. Library of Congress, Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress, 1917, p. 21-22; 1926, p. 4, 336-339; 1936, p. 159-160.

U.S. Library of Congress. Reference Department. Guide to the Special Collections of Prints & Photographs in the Library of Congress (Washington: 1955), compiled by Paul Vanderbilt, no. 573.

The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. Washington, Library of Congress, 66-1446.

U.S. Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division, The Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection of Whistleriana Shown in the Division of Prints, Library of Congress, Southwest Pavillion (Washington, 1921), compiled by Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell


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  October 22, 2010
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