Christie’s: Prints and Multiples

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James McNeill Whistler, ‘The Dyer’, 1879/80, Christie's

Watermark Arms of Amsterdam, a rich atmospheric impression of Glasgow's fourth or fifth state (of ten), signed with the artist's butterfly and inscribed imp. in pencil on the tab, the sheet trimmed close to the platemark (as issued), in very good condition, framed
Sheet: 11 7/8 x 9 3/8 in. (302 x 238 mm.)

From the Catalogue:
The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond this.

This important group of etchings comprises one of the most magnificent plates from the Venice set and the greater part of the Amsterdam series. Taken together, they contain all the important elements that exemplify Whistler's idiosyncratic talents as a printmaker. They also reflect the many and diverse lessons learned over 30 years of experimentation, refinement, and travel.

A seminal moment in Whistler's development as a printmaker occurred in 1857 when he attended a landmark exhibition in Manchester. Here, he saw masterpieces of Dutch printmaking by Berchem, Ostade, Waterloo, Dujardin and, most importantly, Rembrandt. This encounter spawned a lifelong love affair with the Dutch 17th century tradition, and from then this point on, he devoted his time to portraits, landscapes, and domestic scenes.

Another early and important lesson in printmaking for Whistler came the following year at the Paris workshop of Delatre. Here, he learned the practice of 'artistic' printing – leaving thin veils of ink selectively on the plate to change the mood of the image. While this technical lesson might have come in Paris, Whistler’s primary artistic model was undoubtedly Rembrandt since both he and his brother-in-law, Francis Seymour Haden, had become devoted acolytes of the artist. As inspiration, they often called on one of the greatest examples of printmaking ever, Haden's rare, first state of Rembrandt's The Three Crosses, which was a masterclass in the potentialities of line and tone.

It was also in Paris that Whistler began to pay closer attention to paper. The paper most widely available then at the time was bleached white and made from wood-pulp, but Whistler favored old Dutch papers, which could be found by diligently searching in the fly-leaves of old books. He also valued thin, silky Japanese papers, which were just becoming available as European trade relations began to open in the nineteenth century with Japan after their long isolation.

Whistler’s interest in Japan was not only confined to paper, however. He was profoundly influenced by ukiyo-e woodcuts and the way in which they flattened the picture space. Towards the end of the 1850s, he began to synthesize these ideas with the new lessons then being learned from photography. The effects of this radical foreshortening were first seen in his Thames etchings from the late 1850s.
—Courtesy of Christie's

Glasgow 192; Kennedy 219

Royal Library, Windsor Castle (Lugt 2535)

About James 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

Exhibition Highlights

2015
Waterville,
Whistler and the World: The Lunder Collection of James McNeill Whistler
2014
Washington,
An American in London: Whistler and the Thames