Sketches including a head and a hat

Impression: Whistler Etchings Project
Whistler Etchings Project
Number: 440
Date: 1888/1889
Medium: unbitten; drawn through the ground with an etching needle
Size: 64 x 45 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower left
Inscribed: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 1
Catalogues: K.-; M.-; T.-; W.-
Impressions taken from this plate  (1)


animal, hat


Neither Whistler's title nor any early title have been recorded. A descriptive title has therefore been given:
'Sketches including a head and a hat (2011, Whistler Etching Project.)


The subject is not clear. There appears to be a head, possibly the head of a man, or (on a smaller scale, the head of a lion facing partly to left). Upside down is a hat or pudding-shape, possibly standing on a curving shelf. Other details are even less legible.
The lion - if it is a lion - does not look very convincing, and it is possible that it could be a statue- a Trafalgar Square Lion for instance- or that it was done from imagination.
Interpretations of the image vary considerably: a head, possibly of a man, a lion, mickey mouse, a seal, a geisha, but all agree that the underlying sketch was signed with Whistler's butterfly and that, upside down, there is a hat ... or perhaps a pudding. The hat-shape is not a pith helment (for the lion hunter) nor a pudding, which is not suitable for feeding lions.


The main subject may be a portrait, of an unidentified person. However, it seems to have been obscured by a second study- possibly an animal. Whistler could, for instance, have taken his son, Charles James Whistler Hanson (1870-1935), to visit the zoo. In 1887 he took Charlie and a nephew to see the Wild West show at Earl's Court. According to his son, Whistler drew peacocks at the zoo many years earlier, about 1875. 1

1: C.J.W. Hanson, [1903?], GUW #02246.


It looks as if this copper plate was used for several sketches, and that these are not related to each other, and it is possible that not all the sketches are by Whistler.
The 'lion' could relate to Whistler's designs for a new insignia for the Society of British Artists (SBA) when it was granted a Royal Charter, becoming the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA). The designs - not all of which were definitely by Whistler - included this jolly lion facing forward, Crowned lion [m1133]:
Comparative image
Later he developed a more heraldically acceptable design, with a lion in profile, in, for example, Design for a lion for the RBA [m1136] (reproduced below).
Comparative image
Whistler wrote to W.H. Hurlbert on 12 February 1888, 'what do you think of Royal Lion above? Isn't he a joyous beast!! - I did him for the unworthy body of which I am President!' 2 After Whistler resigned from the RBA, the lion and butterfly signature that he had painted on their signboard were obliterated early in 1889, to his annoyance. Possibly this inspired further 'lion' designs.

2: GUW #09583.