La Mère Gérard

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 24
Date: 1858
Medium: etching
Size: 129 x 90 mm
Signed: 'Whistler - ' at lower left (2-final)
Inscribed: 'Imp. Delatre. Rue St. Jacques. 171.' at lower centre (4)
Set/Publication: 'French Set', 1858
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 53
Catalogues: K.11; M.13; T.6; W.9
Impressions taken from this plate  (53)


It was published as La Mère Gérard in Douze eaux-fortes d'après Nature (Twelve Etchings from Nature, the 'French Set') in 1858.


This was a fairly well-known etching. It was first shown in an exhibition of the work of contemporary painters at The Hague in 1863. 12 Later, an impression was shown in Whistler's one-man show in London in 1874, and another went touring to Liverpool and elsewhere with the collection of James Anderson Rose (1819-1890) in the same year. 13

Impressions also appeared in public galleries, such as in Philadelphia in 1879; and in private clubs, for the connoisseur, such as the Union League Club in New York, to which Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) lent 'Trial proof; only one.' and 'The same. The finished state' in 1881 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110102, and possibly Graphic with a link to impression #K0110424). 14 Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924) lent his impression to an international exhibition in Glasgow in 1888 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110103). 15

Impressions were for sale in print dealer's shows, particularly by H. Wunderlich & Co. (1898, 1903) and F. Keppel & Co. (1902) in New York and by Obach & Co. in London in 1903. Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought several impressions, originally from the collection of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), from Wunderlich's in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110302, Graphic with a link to impression #K0110304, Graphic with a link to impression #K0110403). 16 Both Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) and Freer lent impressions to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club, Chicago, in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110402 and Graphic with a link to impression #K0110403). 17

After Whistler's death, impressions were exhibited in the comprehensive Memorial Exhibitions in New York in 1904 and in Paris and London in 1905 - an impression was lent by King Edward VII to the latter. 18

12: Hague 1863; see REFERENCES : EXHIBITIONS.

13: London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 23); Liverpool 1874(cat. no. 506).

14: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 12, 13).

15: Glasgow 1888 (cat. no. 2552-9)

16: New York 1898 (cat. no. 8); New York 1903b (cat. nos. 6, a, b).

17: Chicago 1900 (cat. nos. 9, 9a).

18: New York 1904a (cat. no. 10); Paris Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 292); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 9).


Thomas commented: 'There are, I believe, one or two copies of former states; the only other state I have seen is in the collection of Mr James Anderson Rose.' 19 James Anderson Rose (1819-1890) had three impressions of La Mère Gérard, which he showed in a travelling exhibition in 1874 and sold at Sotheby's in a three-day sale from 27 June 1876 (lots 648-9).

19: Thomas 1874 (cat. no. 6).

Collectors who bought early impressions included Americans such as Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110430, Graphic with a link to impression #K0110424); and Europeans such as William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916), in London (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110406); Philippe Burty (1830-1890), in Paris (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110428); and Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924) in Scotland (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110103); as well as family members such as Thomas DeKay Winans (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110430) and C. S. Haden (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110410). Winans bought Whistler's etchings in the summer of 1859, through Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), to whom he wrote on 20 June: 'I enclose two drafts on Liverpool amounting to £63 sterling and as requested by you, for the etchings - they arrived in good order and are considered very fine, doing Jemmy great credit, I hope he will get up another sett' [sic]. 20 By that date Whistler was indeed at work on the next set, of the Thames.

20: GUW #07079.

In marketing the 'French Set' Whistler was helped by his family, including his brother-in-law Seymour Haden. On 1 January 1861 Haden sold 16 prints (including several Thames etchings) to what was then the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) for £10.10.0, and in addition presented the museum with a complete 'French Set', as printed by Auguste Delâtre (1822-1907) including La Mère Gérard (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110416). 21 Later, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought four impressions, originally from Haden's personal collection, from Wunderlich's, one in 1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110303) and several in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110302, Graphic with a link to impression #K0110304, Graphic with a link to impression #K0110403).

21: V&A, Register for Prints, p. 33.

Burty had an 'early impression before additional work and rebiting of plate, which define exactly the outline of the woman's shadow on the wall and before the printer's address' (presumably meaning the second state) and another 'on India paper', both sold at auction in 1876 and bought by Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) and 'Riggall' for £2.10.0 and £1.2.0 respectively. 22 The second state impression was bought by the British Museum (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110202) and praised by H. Stewart Cundell as among the 'exceptionally fine plates' published in the 'French Set' in the 'scanty collection of modern etchings in the British Museum' 23

22: Sotheby's, 30 April 1876 (lots 730, 731).

23: 'English Etching', The Standard, London, 25 April 1878, p. 2 (GUL PC1/94).

Later prices at auction varied from £0.10.0 to £2.0.0. Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915), for instance, bought a 'trial proof' at the sale of the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) for £2.0.0 and a 'second state' at the sale of William Richard Drake (1817-1890), both in 1892, and his partner, Gutekunst, paid £4.0.0 for this etching and and impression of La Marchande de Moutarde [20] at the sale of the collection of Mrs Edward Fisher of Abbotsbury, Newton Abbot in 1897. 24

Major private collectors included Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), who bought four impressions from F. S. Haden's collection through H. Wunderlich & Co.: three third states (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110302, Graphic with a link to impression #K0110303, Graphic with a link to impression #K0110304) and a final state (Graphic with a link to impression #K0110403). The third states are not radically different but they do reveal slight variations in inking and paper, and show the very obsessive nature of Freer's collecting. They were bequeathed with the rest of his collection to the Freer Gallery of Art.

24: Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 52), Christie's, 8-9 March 1892 (lot 52); Christie's, 13-14 July 1897 (lot 297).

Many of these impressions eventually arrived safely in national collections, mostly in the USA. The Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, was not so lucky: it acquired an impression of La Mère Gérard the year after Whistler's death, in 1904, but it was became a casualty of war, being destroyed by fire after a bombing raid in 1944.