Whistler Archive

Overview of the Whistler Archive

The largest single collection of the correspondence and papers of the artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). Over a third of the 7,000 letters are written by Whistler; the remainder are letters he received. An extensive reference library of over 1,000 volumes on Whistler includes some 200 books from the artist’s library, a nearly complete collection of Whistler’s own publications and exhibition catalogues, thousands of his presscuttings and hundreds of photographs.

Receipt of the Archive

The major part of the collection came to the University of Glasgow from Miss Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), Whistler’s sister-in-law, who inherited his estate. Whistler’s mother was of Scottish descent, and Whistler was gratified when Glasgow Corporation bought his Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, in 1891; the University of Glasgow subsequently awarded Whistler an honorary doctorate. Miss Birnie Philip donated works and papers to the University in 1935 and again in 1954; the remaining items from Whistler’s estate came with her bequest to the University in 1958. Other letters and documents were bequeathed in 1955 by Joseph Whistler Revillon (1886-1955), Whistler’s great-nephew. More recent donations have included Whistler’s correspondence with the Scottish collector John James Cowan (1846-1936), and the correspondence between Whistler and the artist E.A. Walton (1860-1922). Since 1958, the original collection has also been enlarged by purchase of considerable numbers of Whistler letters.


In addition the Library has gathered reference copies of Whistler letters in other collections, notably those in the Library of Congress, the Freer Gallery of Art and the New York Public Library. With the 2,650 letters written by Whistler that are present in the collection, either in the original or in contemporary copies, the total number of letters written by the artist identified so far comes close to 6,000. A portion of the correspondence has been edited for publication and is available on the web as the online correspondence of James McNeill Whistler.

Microfilmed Material

The letters, papers and presscuttings in the collection, together with selected publications by Whistler and abstracts of the correspondence, were microfilmed in 1990 for the Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C. Copies of the 29 reels are available on inter-library loan on application to the Archives of American Art, 750 9th Street NW - Suite 2200, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560-0937, U.S.A.

How to find material from the Whistler Archive

  • Browse through a list of the printed items in the Whistler Archive; or, use the rare books search to locate a specific item. Note that the books from Whistler's own library consist of items numbered Sp Coll Whistler 1 to 199.
  • Browse through a list of manuscript material in the collection by viewing the Whistler Archive fonds record, clicking on the links provided for the different series in the 'arrangement' section, then clicking on 'list series content' for each specific section. Or, to locate a specific item, use the manuscripts search.
  • Nigel Thorp: A guide to the Whistler Collection (Glasgow, 1992). Unpublished computer printout, with an index of correspondents and a list of microfilms [available for consultation in the Special Collections reading room]
  • Martin Hopkinson James McNeill Whistler at the Hunterian Art Gallery (Glasgow, 1990) describes works of art by Whistler and his personal possessions, such as silver, china and furniture, in the care of the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow.
  • Whistlers and further family: an exhibition of portraits and pictures, manuscripts and mementos relating to the family of James McNeill Whistler (Glasgow, 1980). Exhibition catalogue available for consultation in the Special Collections reading room.
  • Whistler and Mallarmé (Glasgow, 1973). Exhibition catalogue (produced by Hunterian Museum) available for consultation in the Special Collections reading room .

See the Special Collections 'book of the month' articles that feature items from the Whistler Archive:

See also: