The Kitchen

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 16
Date: 1858
Medium: etching
Size: 227 x 157 mm
Signed: 'Whistler' at lower right
Inscribed: 'Imp. Delatre. Rue St. Jacques. 171.' at lower right (2); partly removed (3)
Set/Publication: 'French Set', 1858; Fine Art Society, 1885 (3)
No. of States: 3
Known impressions: 67
Catalogues: K.24; M.24; T.13; W.19
Impressions taken from this plate  (67)


interior, kitchen, woman standing, worker.


It has nearly always been known as 'The Kitchen', but one variation seems to have occurred, as seen below:

'The Kitchen' (1858, Whistler). 1
Possibly 'Saverne' (1874, Pall Mall Galleries). 2

'The Kitchen' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 3

This title 'The Kitchen' was consistently used by Whistler and by subsequent cataloguers.

However, it is possible that Whistler might originally have considered different - and contradictory - titles, given the title in his one-man show of 1874, and on the drawing upon which the etching is based, Cuisine à Lûtzelbourg [m0232].

1: Douze eaux-fortes d'après Nature.

2: London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 26).

3: Thomas 1874 (cat. no. 13).


A woman in a cap or bonnet stands looking out of a narrow vine-bordered window in a deep embrasure, at the far end of a dark kitchen with earthen floor and timbered ceiling. At her right is a long staff, leaning against the wall, and at left a dark earthenware bowl and broad straw-plaited jars or baskets. At front right is a basket, and behind it, a stove with narrow base and wider top, on which sit two deep pans. Above this are several plate racks on the wall, supporting plates and platters. On the left wall are two jars on a high shelf, or possibly on a mantelpiece, above a fireplace or cupboards.




Comparative image
The etching is probably based on a pencil and watercolour drawing done on site, The Kitchen [m0235], illustrated above. Another related drawing is called Cuisine à Lûtzelbourg [m0232]. Lutzelbourg is a village and commune in the valley of the river Moselle in what is now known as Alsace-Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is east of Nancy and north-west of Strasbourg.
Comparative image
However, the style of the drawing is very like that in the pencil and watercolour study for Street at Saverne [14], namely A street at Saverne [m0237], reproduced above. A press review of Whistler's one-man show in 1874, indicates that the etching was exhibited at that time under the title 'Saverne'. 4 It is therefore just possible that the kitchen was in Saverne, a town on the river Vosges in what is now the Bas-Rhin department of Alsace in north-eastern France, 45 km north-west of Strasbourg.

4: 'Mr Whistler's Etchings', The Builder, 5 July 1874 (in GUL PC1/73).


The etching is related to several drawings and watercolours by Whistler, Cuisine à Lûtzelbourg [m0232], The Kitchen [m0233], A kitchen [m0234] and The Kitchen [m0235]. The last-named watercolour, The Kitchen is a preliminary study for the etching. It incorporates all the main features of the composition, in reverse. It is a pencil drawing, with the figure added after the window and sink at the far end of the room. However, the rectangular stove at left in the drawing has become a much narrower stove, wider at the top than the bottom, like a truncated upside-down pylon. It is undoubtedly a more interesting shape, and was presumably drawn from observation somewhere else on his trip. It adds to the variety of domestic objects that suggest a poor provincial domestic scene; it is not squalid, and the woman is at work, the flagstone floor is clear of rubbish, and plates and pots shine bright.
Lochnan suggested that the watercolour was added later 'when his main interest lay in dramatic chiaroscuro and tonal values.' She compared it with the oil Sortie de cave by François Bonvin (1817-1887) (1857, Private Collection) and cited their common debt to Pieter de Hooch in such works as The Courtyard of a House in Delft (1658, National Gallery, London). 5 MacDonald cited La Marchande de Moutarde [20] as another example of de Hooch's influence; it also shows a woman at work in a kitchen, but viewed from outside the building, looking through a door. 6 By contrast The Kitchen was clearly drawn from inside the room, although the artist and viewer are distanced from the housewife by the dramatic lighting and her turned back..

5: Lochnan 1984, pp. 41-3.

6: MacDonald 1995 (cat. nos. 235, 272).