Autograph with Butterfly Monogram. James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834−1903). Ink on lightboard. 55 x 88 mm (2 3/16 x 3 1/2 inches). Provenance: acquired privately from an American dealer. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Commentary by Paul Crowther

Whistler’s butterfly signature arose from his 1860s interests in oriental art—and especially, through inspiration from potters' marks on china. This led him to devise a monogram based on his own initials. It gradually developed into the shape of a butterfly—the butterfly alluded to, rather than delineated with visual precision. Around 1880, this allusive shape received an addition—a linear form meant to suggest that the butterfly had a sting!

You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art and the National Gallery of Slovenia and the Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway (2) and link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.


Crowther, Paul. Awakening Beauty: The Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art. Exhibition catalogue. Ljubljana: National Gallery of Slovenia; Galway: Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, 2014. No. 150.

Whistler's Drawings

Created 12 January 2015