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2014 Archive: Acquisition of rare cabinet painted by Whistler

Wednesday 23 April, 2014

National Museums Scotland has acquired a magnificent maple cabinet designed by Edward William Godwin and painted by the renowned artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

National Museums Scotland has acquired a magnificent maple cabinet designed by Edward William Godwin and painted by the renowned artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

The acquisition has been made possible by generous funding from the Art Fund and the National Museums Scotland Charitable Trust.

The object is hugely important in the history of nineteenth century art and applied arts. In the style of the Anglo-Japanese aesthetic movement, the cabinet is the result of an artistic collaboration between Edward William Godwin, an influential designer of the aesthetic movement and James Abbot McNeill Whistler, the most controversial and celebrated painter of the aesthetic movement. The cabinet was manufactured by William Watt Art Furniture.

Made circa 1878 and entitled Harmony in Yellow and Gold – The Cloud Cabinet it is birds eye maple veneer on mahogany and intricately carved with Japanese-style floral, bird and geometric motifs and painted with stippled clouds and butterflies in gold. The butterfly was Whistler’s signature and can be seen on almost all of his work after 1869.

Designed by Godwin and painted by Whistler the cabinet was probably intended for either Watt’s stand at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle or for Whistler’s Godwin-designed house The White House (1878) and still has Watt’s label on the back. Similar motifs of clouds and butterflies can be seen in Whistler’s Peacock Room, designed for the shipping tycoon Frederick Leyland and now housed in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, which was finished in 1877 and which is regarded by many as the most outstanding example of aesthetic movement interior decoration.

Dr Sally-Anne Huxtable, Principal Curator of Art and Design said,

“The Cloud Cabinet is of exceptional importance and enhances our already internationally significant collections of European art and design. We are delighted to have acquired this unique and beautiful item and look forward to displaying it within our new galleries of Art and Design when they open to visitors in 2016.”

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said:

“We are delighted to support the acquisition of this outstanding cabinet, unique in the history of European design.  It will be a spectacular and important addition to National Museums Scotland’s collections, providing a link between their  Japanese works and those of modern and contemporary art and design.”

The cabinet will be displayed in one of four new galleries currently being designed to showcase National Museums’ internationally important collections of Art and Design. These galleries along with six new galleries of Science and Technology comprise the £14 million next phase of the ambitious Masterplan to transform the National Museum of Scotland. Display space will increase by over 40%, with three-quarters of the objects not previously on permanent display.  To be completed in 2016, the displays will champion excellence and innovation, offering an inspirational resource for the scientists, engineers, artists and designers of tomorrow.

Notes to Editors

1.    National Museums Scotland looks after museum collections of national and international importance and provides loans, partnerships, research and training in Scotland and internationally. Our individual museums are the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National War Museum.  The National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh houses conservation and research facilities as well as collections not currently on display.

2.    The National Museum of Scotland reopened in summer 2011 following a three-year, £50m redevelopment. With over 5 million visitors since reopening, the National Museum of Scotland is the most popular attraction in the country outside of London according to ALVA figures. It was also voted the number one museum in the UK in TripAdvisor’s inaugural Travellers’ Choice Awards.

3.    The cabinet has been named Harmony in Yellow and Gold – The Cloud Cabinet by National Museums Scotland.

4.    The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art, helping museums to buy and show great art for everyone. Over the past 5 years we’ve given over £26m to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections and placed hundreds of gifts and bequests, from ancient sculpture and treasure hoards to Old Master paintings and contemporary commissions, with 25% of grants going towards works by living artists. We also help museums share their collections with wider audiences through supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, including the national tour of the Artist Rooms collection and the 2013-2014 tours of Grayson Perry’s tapestries The Vanity of Small Differences and Jeremy Deller’s English Magic, the British Council commission for the 2013 Venice Biennale. Our support for museums extends to the Art Guide app – the comprehensive guide to seeing art across the UK, promoting a network of over 650 museums and galleries throughout the country, and the £100,000 Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year – an annual celebration of the best of UK museums, won in 2013 by William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. We are independently funded, the majority of our income coming from over 100,000 members who, through the National Art Pass, enjoy free entry to over 220 museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions. Find out more about the Art Fund and the National Art Pass at

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