James Abbott McNeill Whistler, ‘The Doorway’, 1979, Harris Schrank Fine Prints

James Whistler (1834-1903), The Doorway, 1879-80, drypoint, etching and roulette, signed with the butterfly on the tab and inscribed imp., printed on laid paper with a WW countermark. Reference: Kennedy 188, Glasgow 193, 9th state (of 20). From the First Venice Set. In very good condition, trimmed by the artist around the plate mark except for the tab, 11 1/2 x 8 inches.

A very fine, dramatic impression, printed in brown ink on laid paper, with carefully wiped platetone enabling the details of the figures in the doorway to be read with relative precision, and accenting the canal showing the shadowing of the doorway on the water.

The National Gallery (US) impression, of the 14th state, is also printed on laid paper with the WW countermark.

Our impression is of the ninth state. Impressions of this state are relatively early and rare; we know of one other in this state, at the Institute of Fine Art, Chicago. After this state Whistler made only slight changes in the plate in the next several states, never changing the basic composition, and after much wear he reworked and strengthened the plate considerably in the final few states. Impressions of the last states can thus be rather striking, although arguably lacking the subtlety of the much earlier impressions such as the present example.

The Doorway was most likely started in the spring or early summer of 1880, when Whistler explored the area around San Marco for subjects. It shows a young woman on the steps, in front of an older woman, with a carpenter’s shop in the interior beyond the elaborate Renaissance facade. The passageway at the center of the architectural framing device is still open and a window allows some light to come in from behind into the darkened interior of the Pallazzo Gussoni, near Pont San Antonio, on the Rio de la Fava. Chairs – the product of the carpenter’s work – hang from the ceiling of the passageway. The rhythm of the windows, further accentuated by the changing orientation of the ironwork, makes the ornate architecture the manifest subject of this print.

About James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler changed the course of art history with his radical techniques and adoption of Asian design principles, which emphasized a two-dimensional flattening of painted forms and their arrangement into abstract patterns. A London-based expatriate, Whistler embraced and promoted the doctrine that art should not serve narrative, but rather project the artist’s subjective feelings through the handling of the medium. His revolutionary methods changed existing approaches to oil paint, pastel, watercolor, etching—even interior design and the decorative arts. The flat, expressive, and radically simplified forms in his Venice pastels, and his use of fluid blue and gray pigments in his abstract nocturnes, altered how his contemporaries like Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas saw and understood art. He scandalously named one of his most famous paintings Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1 (1871), suggesting the reduction of a portrait of his mother to an arrangement of formal elements.

American, 1834-1903, Lowell, MA, United States, based in London, United Kingdom