The Piano

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 144
Date: 1875-1877
Medium: drypoint and open bite
Size: 236 x 160 mm
Signed: butterfly at left (3-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 7
Known impressions: 26
Catalogues: K.141; M.139; W.117
Impressions taken from this plate  (26)


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


An impression described as '1875; trial proof' was lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) to an exhibition at the Union League Club, New York in 1881. 11

H. Wunderlich & Co. had impressions for sale in exhibitions in New York in 1898 and in 1903. Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought the impression exhibited in 1898. Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) lent a 'Proof with the monogram' to the show organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410405). 12

11: New York 1881 (cat. no. 136). See REFERENCES EXHIBITIONS.

12: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 105).

Other impressions were shown in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death; two states, for instance, were shown at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904; Mansfield again lent an impression to the Boston show in 1904, and King Edward VII lent another to the London Memorial Exhibition in 1905 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410403). 13

13: New York 1904a (cat. nos. 118a,b);Boston 1904 (cat. no. 88); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 338).


Whistler offered an impression of 'Girl at the piano - Miss Greaves' to William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) for £5.5.0 in 1875. 14 Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) probably bought one about the same time (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410201). The Royal Library, Windsor, also bought an impression at some time, probably in the 1870s; it was lent to the London Memorial Exhibition in 1905 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410403) and probably sold with the rest of the Royal Collection in 1906.

14: Whistler to Alexander, [March/April 1875?], GUW #07573.

Whistler received the same price - £5.5.0 - for an impression of 'Piano' bought by Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890). 15 Another early owner was James Anderson Rose (1819-1890), whose richly inked impression was sold at auction on 30 June 1876, bought by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), and later, in 1898, through Wunderlich & Co., by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919). Freer also bought an impression of the second state from Obach & Co, for £84.0.0. in 1904 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410202).

15: Whistler to Howell, 12 October-5 November [1877], GUW #12735.

Whistler must somehow have kept one impression safe through the vicissitudes of his bankruptcy in 1878, for he sold Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) one impression of 'The Piano' on 23 July 1889 for the much greater price of £15.15.0, with seven more recent prints, making a total of £88.4.0. 16

16: Whistler to Mansfield, GUW #13046.

Finally, Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924) had an impression of the final state by 1902, which later went to Henry Harper Benedict (1844-1935) and Lessing Julius Rosenwald (1891-1971) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410602).
Surviving impressions from the cancelled plate are often in the album as published in 1879. For instance, the British Museum bought an album in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410705), and Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought a set from Knoedler & Co. in 1893 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410701). Thomas Glen Arthur (1858-1907) also acquired a set in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410711) which later went to Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Early owners included George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410704). Boston Public Library also acquired a set (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410707). In addition, a set acquired by J. Littauer, Munich was sold to the Hamburger Kunsthalle in 1896 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1410708).
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 Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for £0.6.0. 17 Dunthorne exchanged it for other works with Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) who bequeathed it to the University of Glasgow (see Graphic with a link to impression #K1410702). She acquired another set, trimmed the impressions and stuck them on the envelopes containing the copper plates (i.e. Graphic with a link to impression #).

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