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James McNeill Whistler
Valparaiso Harbor
1866
oil
30 1/4 x 20 1/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly



James McNeill Whistler painted this work while in Valparaiso, Chile, during its war of liberation against Spain. From the window of the Naval Circle Club, he described the scene of battle: “There was the beautiful bay with its curving shores, the town of Valparaiso on one side, on the other the long line of hills…they (the English, French, and American fleets) sailed out into the open sea, until the Spanish fleet alone remained…bang went a shell, and the bombardment began.” This abstracted atmospheric interpretation of the scene was among a group of seascapes that helped inspire a new impressionistic approach.