James Whistler’s Maple Cabinet Makes Its Way to Scotland

James Robinson, feeper of Art and Design, National Museums Scotland with Whistler’s Cloud Cabinet. Photo: courtesy Ian Jacobs Photography.

Famous artists don’t often spend much time painting furniture, but National Museums Scotland has just acquired a cabinet by the hand of James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Designed by Edward William Godwin and manufactured by William Watt Art Furniture circa 1878, the piece is adorned in the style of the Anglo-Japanese aesthetic movement and features Whistler’s signature butterflies, found in nearly all his post-1869 works.

The cabinet, titled Harmony in Yellow and Gold: The Cloud Cabinet, was likely made for display by Watt at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle or for Whistler’s London home, the While House, which he commissioned Godwin to build.

The Cloud Cabinet is made of mahogany, with a veneer of birdseye maple that has been intricately carved with Japanese-style floral, bird, and geometric motifs. Whistler’s finishing touches included painting stippled golden clouds. The work shares a similar title, style, and many visual elements with Whistler’s dramatic interior design intervention Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (1877), a room designed for the shipping tycoon Frederick Leyland and now on view at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The cabinet was acquired by the museum thanks to funding from the National Museums Scotland Charitable Trust and the Art Fund, and will be displayed in the new art and design galleries scheduled to open in 2016. The institution is also adding six new galleries of science and technology, for an overall 40 percent increase in exhibition space.

The Art Fund’s director, Stephen Deuchar, praised the acquisition for “providing a link between [the museum’s] Japanese works and those of modern and contemporary art and design.”

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