A superb, richly printed impression of Kennedy's fourth and final state, with areas of dramatic burr throughout the subject, printed after the white spot behind the head of the blacksmith in the previous state was filled in with fine lines. A plate from the edition of approximately 100 published in 1871 by Messrs. Ellis and Green, London, in the series Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects, commonly referred to as the “Thames Set.” Catalogue reference: Kennedy 68 iv/iv; Mansfield 69; Grolier Club 67; Wedmore 65; Thomas 62. Signed and dated in the plate lower left Whistler 1861.
Literature regarding this artwork: Katherine A. Lochnan, The Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, Yale University Press, New Haven London, 1984, pl. 172, p. 135 (ill.); Ronald Anderson Anne Koval, James McNeill Whistler: Beyond the Myth, Carroll Graf Publishers, New York, 1994, p. 104; Michel Melot, The Impressionist Print, Yale University Press, Newv Haven London, 1996, no. 38, p. 39 (ill.).
“The Forge” is one of the two plates selected for publication in the “Thames Set” which were not depictions of actual Thames environs (the other being “Becquet”). It was done in September of 1861 after Whistler and Henri Fantin-Latour had returned to France following their visit to the home of fellow artist Edwin Edwards at Sunbury. During the trip Fantin and Whistler accompanied Edwards on camping trip on the covered boat Edwards owned and used for etching expeditions on the river. Due to unusually inclement weather, Whistler's exposure to the elements during the camping trip brought on a serious bout of rheumatic fever. Upon his return to France, Whistler continued on to Brittany to recuperate fully from his illness. While at the seaside in Brittany he completed the above etching which was apparently inspired by the notable Brittany painting by François Bonvin titled “Les Forgerons: Souvenir du Tréport” which he had seen exhibited at the Salon of 1857.
Whistler treated the subject of the forge, which was a favorite of the Romantics and Realists, in a new way. Gone were the straining Vulcan-like muscles found in the work of his predecessors; Whistler's smith stands like an alchemist before the forge, observing the glowing metal, while apprentices stand by watching the transformation take place. As with the other subjects chosen for inclusion in the “Thames Set,” Whistler was not concerned with a social message. Rather, his concern was with the dramatic and shifting illumination inside the dusky room, and the way in which forms were rendered ambiguous and insubstantial by the blaze. Whistler was very pleased with this drypoint, and printed all the early impressions himself, often on the thin, silky japon mince used for this impression.
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