Whistler's Mother

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 103
Date: 1871
Medium: drypoint
Size: 256 x 156 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 20
Catalogues: K.97; M.99; W.88
Impressions taken from this plate  (20)


It was published in an album of Cancelled Plates ('Cancelled Set') by The Fine Art Society, London, 1879.


It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime but a unique impression of the first state was lent after Whistler's death by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) to Memorial Exhibitions in Boston and New York (Graphic with a link to impression #K0970101). 8

An impression from the destroyed plate was lent by the dealers Messrs. Ernest Brown & Phillips to the London Memorial Exhibition in 1905. 9

8: Boston 1904 (cat. no. 71); New York 1904a (cat. no. 92).

9: London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 88).


The unique impression of the first state was acquired by Mortimer Luddington Menpes (1860-1938) and was sold through Obach & Co. to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1903 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0970101). Freer had already acquired an impression in a cancelled set from Knoedler & Co. in 1893 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0970303).
Many of the surviving impressions from the cancelled plate are still in the albums as published in 1879. For instance, the British Museum bought an album in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0970308), and Thomas Glen Arthur (1858-1907) also acquired a set in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0970312) which later went to Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Likewise, in 1902 Josiah Bradlee (fl. 1902) gave an impression to the BMFA (Graphic with a link to impression #K0970z01). Boston Public Library also acquired a set (Graphic with a link to impression #K0970302). A set acquired by J. Littauer, Munich, was sold to the Hamburger Kunsthalle in 1896 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0970310).
Prices were low but collectors and collections were keen to have the set of cancelled etchings, as a record of a substantial number of otherwise unrecorded etchings and drypoints. A set, probably acquired from the Fine Art Society by Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892), was auctioned in 1889 and bought by the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for £0.6.0. 10 Dunthorne exchanged it for other works with Whistler's sister-in-law Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) who bequeathed it to the University of Glasgow (see Graphic with a link to impression #K0970304). She acquired another set, trimmed the impressions and stuck them on the envelopes containing the copper plates, which did not greatly improve their condition (i.e. Graphic with a link to impression #K0970305).

10: Sotheby's, London, 13 December 1889 (lot 787 or 789).