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)


It was published in the second state as The Kitchen in Douze eaux-fortes d'après Nature (Twelve Etchings from Nature, the 'French Set') in 1858.
In the third state it was published by the Fine Art Society, London, in 1885. Whistler complained vigorously that he had been paid in pounds sterling rather than guineas:
'Your Secretary has made out his cheque for twenty pounds instead of 20 gns / Kindly let the pound be sent to me at once - - It is this sort of curious error on the part of the Society that so continually does away with any pleasure I might have in producing beautiful work - things for them - ... In this particular case, I put every thing aside - and in the height of the season too - that I might simply carry out my promise to you - and I fancy that the result in the way of quality of work, is not beneath your expectations - You know well that I am to receive five gns for each dozen proofs - for it was with yourself that this was once for all agreed upon - Now I send you four dozen and indeed three separate proofs over & above - ' 13

13: Whistler to Huish, [17 June 1884?], GUW #01172.

The Academy critic praised this edition highly:
'the Fine Art Society has recently issued a small edition of the famous plate known as ''The Kitchen'', a plate of which the earliest state was wrought by Mr Whistler twenty-five years ago. It presented, with much cleverness, but with some imperfection, what is called a ''Rembrandtesque'' effect of light and shade, the light entering the kitchen by a narrow window, and striking brilliantly on the wall. The foreground was somewhat unsatisfactory. Mr Whistler has recently added much work for the issue of the Fine Art Society; he has ''brought the picture together'', as the phrase is, and given to the elaborate etching a harmonious unity sometimes more conspicuous in a first sketch than in a highly wrought plate. The plate now takes its place as not only fine, but faultless.' 14

14: The Academy, 7 August 1886, p. 95.


As part of the 'French Set', this was a comparatively well-known print. It was first shown in an exhibition of the work of contemporary painters at The Hague in 1863. 15


In 1874 the critic of The Builder compared La Vieille aux Loques [27] and La Marchande de Moutarde [20] to the work of Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn (1617-1681), asserting that they were 'in power of composition and light and shade, like a Rembrandt on a small scale; and of kindred excellence is ... the small interior called "Saverne" (26), a momentary incident of internal effect in a small room, with a female figure looking out of the window, which the artist has caught and turned to poetry, for whosoever has eyes to discern it. 16 This description fits The Kitchen, and suggests that it was shown at Whistler's one-man exhibition in London in 1874, but under a different title, 'Saverne'. 17 Certainly an impression travelled to Liverpool with the collection of James Anderson Rose (1819-1890) in 1874, but by then it had definitely acquired the accepted title, The Kitchen. 18

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

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

18: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 513).

It also went on show at exhibitions organised by private clubs of connoisseurs and collectors, one 'Fine old proof' being lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) to the Union League Club in New York in 1881 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240227). 19 Impressions were seen by the public in several international exhibitions, including the Glasgow International Exhibitions of 1888, lent by Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924), and 1901, lent by James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901). 20 Impressions were lent by Mansfield to an exhibition of etchings at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1891 (i.e. Graphic with a link to impression #K0240223), and it was included in the panel organised by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. 21 Another was lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) to the Caxton Club, Chicago, in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240204). 22

In New York, it was shown in print dealer's shows, by H. Wunderlich & Co. (1889, 1898, 1903) and F. Keppel & Co. (1902). Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought impressions of the second (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240205) and third state (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240303) from Wunderlich's show in 1898. 23

Finally, it was exhibited in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death, by the Copley Society in Boston and at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904, and in Paris and London in 1905, being lent by King Edward VII to the London show (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240203). 24

19: New York 1881 (cat. no. 30).

20: Glasgow 1888 (cat. no. 2552-7); Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 240).

21: Mansfield to Whistler, 20 November 1891, GUW #03995.

22: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 19).

23: New York 1898 (cat. no. 18).

24: Boston 1904 (cat. no. 14); New York 1904a (cat. nos. 20); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 19); Paris Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 300).


It was at first sold with the 'French Set'. Sets were often kept in folders but sometimes bound in an album, although these albums have now mostly been dismantled (for instance, see Graphic with a link to impression #K0240z07).
In marketing the 'French Set' Whistler was helped by his family, including Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910). On 1 January 1861 Haden sold 16 prints 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 The Kitchen (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240219). 25

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

Whistler may have given one impression of the second state to Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240225), and certainly Haden owned impressions of the second (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240205), and third state (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240303) which were bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) from Wunderlich's in 1898. other early collectors included George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240208) and Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240227). The British Museum acquired an impression in 1872 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240211).
E.D. Wallace (fl. 1871-1887), poet, novelist and writer on art, reported in detail on a visit to the British Museum Prrint Room to see Whistler's works, commenting, "An Old Kitchen" is a Rembrandtesque effect of light slanting through a back window over the figure of an old woman, who enjoys the leisure afforded by a kitchen in perfect order to gaze out into the daylight from the gloomy gray interior of her homely room.' 26

In April 1876 the collection of Philippe Burty (1830-1890) was exhibited by Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) in the print-shop of Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) in Haymarket, London, prior to its auction. Wedmore's review specifically mentions this etching:

26: 'Mr Whistler's Paintings', Baltimore Gazette, after 1 April 1876, in GUL PC1/75; quoting E.D. Wallace, 'The Fine Arts Abroad', Forney's Weekly Press, Philadelphia, 1 April 1876.

'Mr. Whistler, in some of the Thames-side etchings - abounding in M. Burty's collection - has reached a certain grim and every-day reality, which the imaginative artist [Mèryon] did not seek for first, since he made the ugliness of the Morgue surroundings visibly tragic, and the beams of the Pompe beautiful .... That Mr Whistler is not actually insensible to the effects of vivid light and sombre shade which charmed Mèryon and for the most part were mastered by him, is shown in several prints; ... notably in the piece entitled The Kitchen (No. 743), where the light pierces through narrow windows into the gloomy room, brightens to white one side of the thick deep wall ' 27

27: F. Wedmore, 'M. Burty's collection', The Academy , 29 April 1876, pp. 414-15.

At auction, a 'first state' from the collection of John W. Wilson (dates unknown) fetched £4.4.0 in 1887. At the sale of the important collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) in 1892, a 'first state' went to the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for a comparatively high price, £8.15.0, and another impression to Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915) for £4.10.0, while a cancelled impression was bought by Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) for only £0.3.0. At the William Richard Drake (1817-1890) sale in 1892, two first states were sold for £10.10.0 and £3.0.0, both bought by Deprez. 28

28: Sotheby's, 22 April 1887 (lot 177); Sotheby’s, 3 March 1892 (lots 63-5); Christie’s, 8-9 March 1892 (lots 326-7).

H. Wunderlich & Co. of New York sold a good impression of the third state as printed by Whistler and published by the Fine Art Society to Freer in 1888 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240302). The prices Whistler himself obtained from Wunderlich's ranged from £6.6.0 on 4 July 1892 to £8.8.0 on 10 April 1893, for one impression plus a 'destroyed proof'. 29

29: Kennedy to Whistler, 6 July 1892, GUW #07196; 12 April 1893, #07214.

Sometimes the etching was sold at auction with the complete 'French Set'; for instance, a set was bought by Colnaghi's for £6.0.0 at Christie's, 31 July 1894. The Kupferstichkabinett Berlin paid a lot more - £45.0.0 - for an impression bought from Obach & Co. in 1904 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0240229).