Focus on the Peck Collection: James McNeill Whistler and the Dutch Landscape Tradition

August 11, 2023 - November 12, 2023

Sailboats in a harbor

The naturalism and realism of seventeenth-century Dutch landscapes have captivated artists’ imaginations for centuries, including that of James McNeill Whistler (American, active in England and France, 1834-1903). From a young age, the avant-garde painter and printmaker admired Dutch art after seeing prints by Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669) and his contemporaries in a family member’s collection and later in prominent art exhibitions. This Focus on the Peck Collection installation features two etchings by Whistler created during his year-long stay in Venice, Italy, in 1879, presented with a seascape by seventeenth-century Dutch artist Jan van de Cappelle (c. 1624-1679). Although he used the same compositional elements as Van de Cappelle, Whistler adapted and modernized them. He moved the characteristically low horizon line employed by seventeenth-century artists to the upper register of his compositions and experimented with ways to represent atmosphere and light. While innovative, his vivid, luminous, and dramatic compositions remain indebted to the accomplishments of his Dutch predecessors.


In January 2017, the Ackland Art Museum received its largest gift to date when Sheldon Peck (UNC-Chapel Hill, BS ’63, DDS ’66) and his wife Leena donated their extraordinary collection of 134 mostly 17th-century Dutch and Flemish master drawings, as well as significant funds for the stewardship of the collection, new acquisitions, and an endowed curatorial position in European and American art before 1950. At least one example from the collection is always on view at the Museum, but because these works of art on paper are light-sensitive, we rotate a select number of drawings with other objects from our permanent collection in an ongoing display called Focus on the Peck Collection. Click below to see past installations.

Focus on the Peck Collection installations

About Sheldon and Leena Peck

Sheldon Peck, a native of Durham, North Carolina, is a double alumnus of the University, receiving his undergraduate degree from Carolina in 1963 and his doctorate from the UNC School of Dentistry in 1966. He and Leena enjoyed distinguished careers as prominent orthodontic specialists and educators in the Boston area.

The Peck Collection started as a collaboration between Sheldon and his late brother Harvey and continued as a joint interest shared with Leena. The result of over 40 years of exceptional connoisseurship, scientifically rigorous analysis, and dedicated pursuit, the Peck Collection stands as an internationally significant achievement. Sadly, Leena Peck passed away in January of 2019, followed by Sheldon Peck in April of 2021.

Resource Links
Podcast – “Well Said: The Peck Collection”
Video – A Transformational Gift of Art
Video – “The Art and Science of Collecting the Old Masters,” A Talk by Dr. Sheldon Peck, UNC-Chapel Hill, 21 May 2017
UNC Press Release – Gift of The Peck Collection
Complete Illustrated List of Works in The Peck Collection at the Ackland

Image credit:

Jan van de Cappelle, Dutch, c. 1624-1679, Fishing Vessels in a Calm, c. 1650-60, black chalk, brush and black ink, and gray wash on paper, 6 x 8 1/16 in. (15.2 x 20.4 cm). Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Peck Collection, 2017.1.16.