Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, 1875

  • James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American, 1834 - 1903

Oil on panel

  • Unframed: 23 3/4 × 18 3/8 inches (60.3 × 46.7 cm)
  • 36 3/4 × 30 1/4 × 3 1/4 inches (93.3 × 76.8 × 8.3 cm)

Gift of Dexter M. Ferry, Jr.


On View

  • Modern


American Art before 1950

This work, which is a depiction of a fireworks display in London’s Cremorne Gardens, is probably Whistler’s most infamous painting. It was the central issue of a libel suit that involved the art critic John Ruskin and the artist. Ruskin had publicly slandered the work by making the statement, “I have seen, and heard, much of cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Whistler won the libel suit; however, he was awarded only the token damages of one farthing. This is one of Whistler’s many “Nocturnes,” which are characterized by a moody atmosphere, a subtle palette, and overall tonalist qualities.

the artist

1892-1940, Samuel Untermyer (New York, New York, USA)

May 10, 1940, Untermyer family's sale, Parke-Bernet, lot 29 (New York, New York, USA). Charles Sessler, Knoedler (New York, New York, USA). 1946, Scott and Fowles (New York, New York, USA)

1946-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. 1875. Stephans. 1875, p. 581. Wilde, Oscar. "The Grosvenor Gallery." Dublin University Magazine 90 (July 1877): p. 124. Lostalot. 1883, p. 80. Ruskin, John. Fors Clavigera. 1877, p. 124. [note: journal produced by Ruskin himself; see Cook, E. T. and A. Wedderburn, eds. The Works of John Ruskin, 39 vols. London, 1903-12.] Huysmans, Jorris-Karl. Certains. Paris, 1889, p. 67. Notes, Harmonies, Nocturnes. Exh. cat., Wunderlich and Co. New York, 1889, no. 55. Whistler, James A. McNeil. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. London, 1892, pp. 3-15, 304-305. [reprint New York: Dover, 1967] Whistler Retrospective Exhibition. Exh. cat., Goupil Gallery. London, 1892, no. 10. MacColl, Dugald Sutherland. 1893, p. 90. Eddy, Arthur Jerome. Recollections and Impressions of James A. McNeill Whistler. Philadelphia, 1903, p. 140. Alexandre, Arsene. 1903, pp. 22, 25 (ill.). Duret, Theodore. Histoire de James McNeill Whistler et Souvenure. Paris, 1904, p. 65. Whistler Memorial Exhibtion. Exh. cat., Copley Hall. Boston, 1904, no. 64. Whistler Memorial Exhibition. Exh. cat., New Gallery. London, 1905, no. 5. Exposition des Ouvres de James McNeill Whistler. Exh. cat., Musee Nationale du Luxembourg. Paris, 1905, no. 66. Benedite, Leonce. "Whistler." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 47 (1905): pp. 151-158 (ill.). Pennell, Elizabeth Robins and Joseph Pennell. The Life of James McNeill Whistler, Vol. 1. London, 1908, p. 232. [reprints 1911 and 1922] Paintings in Oils and Pastels by James McNeill Whistler. Exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1910, no. 12. Cary, Elizabeth Luther. The Works of James McNeill Whistler. New York, 1913, pp. 64-65, 166, no. 164. Pennell, Elizabeth Robins and Joseph Pennell. The Whistler Journal. Philadelphia, 1921, p. 4. American Magazine of Art 12, 1 (January 1921): p. 4. Pousette-Dart, Nathaniel J. James McNeill Whistler. New York, 1924. Laver, James. Whistler. New York, 1930. Newsweek. May 20, 1940. 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James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, 1875, oil on panel. Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Dexter M. Ferry, Jr., 46.309.