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The year or years in which the etching was created is given in each catalogue entry, after the catalogue number and title. Further information and discussion of dating is given in the catalogue entry by clicking on the 'Date' tab. Clicking on 'Full Catalogue' (in the 'Browse' section of the navigation menu shows the images of all the etchings arranged in chronological order.


Dates are indicated as follows:
  • 23 August 1887 indicates a precise date.
  • 1888 : the etching definitely dates from that year.
  • October/November 1879: the etching was made between these two months.
  • 1879/1879 : the etching was made at some time between these years.
  • 1870-1879 : the etching was worked on at intervals, but not necessarily continuously, between these dates.

Dating an Etching

Quite often, particularly in early works, Whistler etched the date on the copper plate. If this was etched on the first state, the etching is considered to be of that date. If it was etched on a later state, this may still be the correct date, but the date of earlier states is checked separately.
Whether or not they are dated on the plate, some late states were etched years after the first, dated state. In that case our note records the dates of such changes. This is done only for changes to the plate, not to late printings of an early state. This is the case, for instance, in Speke Hall: The Avenue [101], which is dated '1870' on the plate but where it was radically changed up to 1879 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0960802). In another example, in Amsterdam, from the Tolhuis [99], the butterfly monogram was added in the late 1870s to an etching originally dated '1863' (Amsterdam, from the Tolhuis [99] reproduced below).
Impression: K0910402
Amsterdam, from the Tolhuis [99]
Print dealers and publishers published some etchings individually or in sets. The date is usually known from the sale records and printed circulars concerning the edition. Although any such etching must date from before the date of publication, the actually etching may have been started much earlier. Thus etchings from the 'Thames Set' were published in 1871, but many are dated on the plate from 1859 on (ie Black Lion Wharf [54]). There will thus be impressions from 1859 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0420101), from the 1860s (Graphic with a link to impression #K0420209) and from 1871 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0420305), as well as from any later editions of the etching and impressions from the cancelled plate (Graphic with a link to impression #K0420401).
When the etching is not dated on the plate other factors come into play. Whistler's own records vary considerably. The records of sales in his correspondence provide some dates. For example, Cutler Street, Houndsditch [361] was first recorded as sold on 17 November 1887, and other sales followed shortly after, so it probably dates from shortly before 17 November and was printed in November to december 1887. 1

1: Whistler, to T. McLean, 17 November 1887, GUW #13016.

Dealers' records may confirm these dates. Extensive correspondence between Whistler and several dealers, such as Wunderlich & Co., New York, survives- in the case of Wunderlich and their principal representative, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), there are letters in Special Collections, Glasgow Unversity Library, and in New York Public Library, and stock books in Colby College, Maine, which include stock numbers relating to individual etchings, and thus cumulative information may help date individual impressions of an etching.
Occasionally Whistler or an amanuensis kept a record of printing his etchings. This occurred in the late 1870s, for instance there are good records of printing proofs and the edition of Old Battersea Bridge [188]. In the 1880s there are nearly complete records of printing the 'First Venice Set', contained in the correspondence between Whistler and the Fine Art Society, and the 'Second Venice Set', in accounts between Whistler and Messrs Dowdeswell. In the 1890s, Whistler, his wife, and her sister Rosalind Birnie Philip made lists of his etchings and plates in the studio, which provide titles, and sometimes, dates. 2

2: J. Whistler, list, [August 1887/1888], GUW #13233; [1890/1891], #13236; B. Whistler, list [1890/1892], #12715.

Historical records.
The subject or site of an etching may provide the date. Whistler's travels are well documented and give at least some indication, to within a month or so, of may etchings. For instance, Whistler went on an etching trip in the Rhine area between 14 August and 7 October 1858, and he was only in Venice between September 1879 and November 1880. A few subjects can be dated from personal records. For instance, Garnet Joseph Wolseley (1833-1913) sat for his portrait, Sir Garnet Wolseley [177], on 24 November 1877 and this was recorded both in the diary of Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890) and in Wolseley's own diary. Objects shown in an etching can help in dating it: the poster for 'Fred Carlos' in a London shop scene, for instance in The Barber's Shop, Chelsea [263], or women's costume in Bébés, Jardin du Luxembourg [463] and Mrs J. Birnie Philip [479]. Others can be dated from a particular historical event. The 'Naval Review Set', for example, dates from Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887.
Impression: K3260102
Her Majesty's Fleet: Evening [310] : The Jubilee Naval Review of 23 August 1887.
Whistler occasionally wrote a date in pencil in the margin of an etching. This was usually done when he signed an etching for a collector. Thus the dates, for instance, on etchings for Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), were written by Whistler in the early 1870s (ie '1873 -' on Graphic with a link to impression #K0890201) but they were not necessarily precise. Very occasionally the dates were noted at the time they were printed (ie 'Aug 3. 1879 -' on Graphic with a link to impression #K1770104, and '5. Feb. 23.' on Graphic with a link to impression #K4070402).
Whistler's butterfly monogram changed considerably in style between 1869, when it first appeared, and 1903. The earliest form of the butterfly is seen, for instance, on The Old Swan Brewery, Chelsea [105] and Model Seated [104]. A series of butterflies is reproduced below.
[comparative image]
The Velvet Dress (Mrs Leyland) [120], 1873/1874
[comparative image]
Free Trade Wharf [171], 1877
[comparative image]
Hurlingham [184], 1879
[comparative image]
The Piazzetta [218], 1880
[comparative image]
Gypsy Baby [373], 1886/1887
[comparative image]
The Hangman's House, Tours [393], 1888
[comparative image]
Gateway, Chartreuse, near Loches [421], 1888/1890s
[comparative image]
The Pierrot [450], 1889
The above butterflies are etched on the copper plates. Whistler also signed his etchings in graphite pencil with similar butterflies either at the time of printing or later when preparing the works for sale or exhibition. Unfortunately, so did other people: the 'butterfly' shown below was drawn by someone else.
[comparative image]
The etched butterflies and the marginal pencil ones, or those on the tab, can often be dated within a year or more. The dating of butterflies is based on a combination of stylistic clues and historical facts. Since some etchings can be precisely dated - for instance, those done in Venice (such as The Little Mast [196])- the butterflies on Venetian subjects help in dating similar signatures (such as Wheelwright [240]). Similarly signed prints are grouped together, and the groups placed in a sequence. A butterfly drawn in pencil in the margin of a print or on a tab may relate to the date of printing the plate, or to the sale of that particular print, but it also gives an indication of the latest possible date of that etching.
Dates by cataloguers.
The early cataloguers of Whistler's etchings developed a sequence of dates based on their personal knowledge of the artist's work. Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876), for instance, was familiar with Whistler's work before 1874. 3

Etchings not included in Wedmore's catalogue may be of a later date than his first publication of 1886, or of the second edition of 1899. 4

Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) based his dating particularly on the information written by the artist on etchings in the collection of S.P. Avery, and now in New York Public Library. 5 Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) was following Whistler's work closely from the late 1880s. 6 Both knew Whistler and were in touch with him regarding the identity of etchings, with Kennedy in particular buying impressions straight off the press, and Mansfield ordering impressions directly from Whistler. Thus the chronological arrangement of their catalogues has a basis in personal knowledge but is sometimes flawed.

When later writers, such as Lochnan and Getscher, have grouped or dated etchings, their suggestions contribute to the final dating in our catalogue. 7

3: Thomas, Ralph, A Catalogue of the Etchings and Drypoints of James Abbott MacNeil Whistler, London, 1874.

4: Wedmore, Sir Frederick, Whistler's Etchings: a Study and a Catalogue, London, 1886; Wedmore, Sir Frederick, Whistler's Etchings: a Study and a Catalogue, 2nd ed., revised, London, 1899.

5: Mansfield, Howard, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etchings and Dry-Points of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Chicago, 1909.

6: Kennedy, Edward G., The Etched Work of Whistler, New York, 1910.

7: Lochnan, Katharine A., The Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1984; Getscher, Robert Harold, Whistler and Venice, Ph.D. dissertation, Case Western University, Cleveland, 1970.

Stylistic comparisons are also important. For instance, in the late 1880s Whistler was working with Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896) and Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), and their styles of drawing and shading converged. Thus a portrait of Beatrice, wrongly identified by Kennedy as 'Mrs Whibley' (Trixie (Mrs Beatrice Whistler) [470], reproduced below) can be assigned to a date of 1888/1892 on grounds of subject, butterfly and drawing style.
Impression: K4410102
Trixie (Mrs Beatrice Whistler) [470]
When all such clues, facts, and stylistic features have been evaluated, groups of etchings are formed, that share physical (size of plates) and stylistic similarities.