An original etching and drypoint printed in black ink on tissue-weight laid Japan paper.
This is astrong, black, richly printed impression of Kennedy’s fourth and final state, Glasgow’s sixth and final state, printed after the small cross-shaped mark was removed from the upper left corner. One of the plates from the album A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects, now commonly referred to as “The Thames Set,” printed by Frederick Goulding in the 1870s. Catalogue reference: Kennedy 52 iii/iv; Mansfield 52; Grolier Club 50; Wedmore 48; Thomas 54. Literature regarding this artwork: Joseph Elizabeth Robins Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, I, pp. 54, 70, 101; Katherine A. Lochnan, The Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, Yale University Press, New Haven London, 1984, pp. 104, 170; Drawing Near. Whistler Etchings from the Zelman Collection, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984 (cat. no. 7a).
Following Whistler's stay at Wapping where he etched his famous Thames subjects, he left for Paris in October of 1859. During this ten-week period until shortly before Christmas he experimented with the drypoint technique for the first time. Nine of the twelve drypoints which Whistler made while in Paris were portraits of the artist or his friends. This was the first time that he devoted himself seriously to portraiture in printmaking with the intention of bringing out the personality of his sitters. The most impressive of these plates are the male portrait drypoints, “Becquet” (K. 52), “Drouet” (K. 55) and “Astruc, a Literary Man.” (K. 53). Becquet was a musician who lived in his studio among “disorder and his cello.” Whistler's portrait of his friend reveals the artist's interest in 17th century Dutch portrait etching, particularly the work of Van Dyck and Rembrandt.
The copper plate on which “Becquet” was etched had been brought to Whistler by a friend. When he received it it had a view of West Point etched on it on which the friend wanted a critical opinion. Whistler's opinion was apparently not particularly complimentary for he burnished out most of the West Point image to free the plate for Becquet's portrait. Traces of the previous composition can just be made out at the upper right corner and the lower right corner where stacked muskets were once depicted. In 1871 when the “Thames Set” was formally published “Becquet” was included under the title “The Fiddler.” Its inclusion, along with “The Forge” (K. 68), illustrate that the “Thames Set” plates were not “about” their subjects, but about different ways of seeing and approaching nature. While the series is best known for the group of realist etchings of 1859 which lie at its core, it documents Whistler's changing approach to his subject as he moved away from realism toward aestheticism, and became increasingly concerned with capturing fleeting impressions of nature rather than documenting concrete realities.
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