Sketches on the Coast Survey Plate

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 1
Date: 1854
Medium: etching
Size: 149 x 253 mm
Signed: 'J.W.' at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 28
Catalogues: K.1; M.1; T.-
Impressions taken from this plate  (28)
Etching: PK001_01 (plate)
John Ross Key (1837-1920), acquired the copper plate and described to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), how he came to acquire it:
'I have had in my possession for a long time the copper plate etching of J. M. Whistler[']s his first work made in 1855 then in the U. S. Coast Survey office Washington City ...
... Would it be best to dispose of the plate or should I have a small number of copies impressions [sic] made for those who would like this interesting addition to their collection of rare prints. I send here - with an impression of the plate. I have never had more than 25 or 30 taken and the plate has never been out of my possession. ... S. P. Avery - N. Y. ... when in London asked Whistler regarding it, and he remember[ed] the circumstances which were as follows - .
Whistler and I were in the office at that time ... The officials of the Drawing Dept thought he might excell [sic] as an etcher and gave him this plate to etch the coast view usually printed on their Charts.
While engaged at this work he exercise[d] his skill & fancy by the work on the several heads and bit them in at the same time he developed the coast views. Some time after he left the office which was shortly after the plate was finished I desired to try an etching and made application, for a piece of Copper - I was given this plate at the usual price per inch and told I could have that cleaned off. I always admired his work and having watched him develop this plate it was of so much interest to me that I have kept it since that time - 1855 - Kindly let me know your estimate of its value. If you can guide me to any success I shall be happy to share a just portion of the profits with you - ' 12

12: Key to Freer, [15 February 1896] , GUW #11723.

It would seem that Freer did not buy the copper plate at that time, because a few years later, in 1905, the plate was lent by William Heinemann (1863-1920) to the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in London together with a proof printed by Frederick Goulding (1842-1909). 13

13: London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 400).

The plate was then bought by William Keeney Bixby (1857-1931), a collector in St Louis. Recently - in 1991 - St Louis Art acquired an impression 'with an inscription on the verso dated Dec. 25, 1905 from Mr. Bixby stating that there were not many impressions in existence, and any others could only taken from the plate with his permission since he owned the plate.' 14 Bixby owned the plate for several years and may have had additional impressions taken from it. He then sold the plate and one impression (Graphic with a link to impression #K0010105) to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), probably in 1913, and presented one of the remaining impressions to the St Louis Art Museum in 1915 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0010111). The plate is now in the Freer Gallery of Art. 15 It is lacquered but is not cancelled.

14: Elizabeth Wyckoff to M.F.MacDonald, 5 August 2011, email, WEP.

15: Acc. No. 1913.92.