St James's Street

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 178
Date: 1878
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 275 x 155 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower left (3-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 36
Catalogues: K.169; M.165; W.140
Impressions taken from this plate  (36)


A reproduction of the fourth state, in reverse, was published by a lithographic transfer process in Vanity Fair, London, 2 July 1878, entitled 'St. James's Street - June, 1878', with 'J. A. McNeill Whistler' lithographed in script below the print, at the left. An impression was printed through a filter in preparation for the printing of this lithograph (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690425).
The Athenaeum commented:
'Mr Whistler's etching will give to posterity but a faint idea of the characters and incidents of St James's Street in our times. Leech would have supplied these in abundance, as Hogarth did. As a sketch, however, of sunlight and shadow, with fine and delicate aerial effect, grading of tones, and varied solidity, the work has rare charm.' 15

15: Athenaeum, 6 July 1878, p. 25.

According to the Pennells, the World mistook the reproduction for an original etching, and so invited from Whistler one of the letters now following each other fast: 'Atlas has the wisdom of ages, and need not grieve himself with mere matters of art.' 16 The note by Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-1894), in the World on 3 July 1878 had described St James's Street as 'sadly disappointing'. The Examiner on 6 July 1878 contested Yates's criticism, saying that the critics were expecting too much:

16: Pennell 1908, p. 215.

'Mr. Whistler's etching of St James's-street in the season is said to be a disappointment. It is so only if we expect more from the etching than etching can possibly give, and if we expect in copies printed off with comparative haste the same finish that we find in copies produced under the etcher's personal superintendence. An etcher cannot imitate nature like an oil-painting; his business is to suggest rather than to copy; and Mr. Whistler seems to us to have caught the brightness and movement of St James's-street on a summer's day with a certainty of touch which it would be difficult to surpass on the copper plate.'
Whistler explained:
'Atlas, overburdened with the world and its sins, may well be relieved from the weight of one wee error - a sort of last straw that bothers his back. The impression in Vanity Fair that disappoints him is not an etching at all, but a reproduction for that paper by some transfer process'. 17

17: Whistler to E. H. Yates, 3 and 10 July 1878, GUW #11383; reprinted in Whistler 1892.


St James's Street was exhibited widely, but only after 1895, appearing in international shows in Leipzig in 1895 and Wolverhampton in 1902. An impression was lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690302). 18

It also appeared in print dealers' shows, at H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and 1903 and at F. Keppel & Co. - with an impression from the collection of Mortimer Luddington Menpes (1860-1938) - in 1904. 19 Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought a final state from the 1898 Wunderlich show (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690303).

18: Leipzig 1895 (cat. no. 805); Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 122). See REFERENCES : EXHIBITIONS.

19: New York 1898 (cat. no. 119); New York 1903b (cat. no. 140).

Finally, it was shown in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death, including the Grolier Club in New York in 1904; the Copley Society show in Boston, also in 1904, to which one was lent by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938); and the London show of 1905, to which an impression was lent by King Edward VII. 20

20: New York 1904a (cat. no. 141); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 106); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 140).


Early in July 1878 Whistler wrote to a prospective patron, Alfred Chapman (1839-1917): 'I dont know whether we are at cross purposes about the "St. James" - but what I meant to say was that I have not a proof now - and cannot print one for some weeks ... So make your choice of all the others - (the price of the St. James is 3. gs -)' (that is, £3.3.0). 21

21: 1-10 July 1878, GUW #03562.

Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) owned all four states of the etching, which were sold after his death, and included the '4th proof' of the first state (probably Graphic with a link to impression #K1690103). In the sale at Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lots 221 - 4) sold for £2.7.0, £1.18.0, £2.2.0, £1.8.0, the first two to the New York print dealer, Frederick Keppel (1845-1912), and the others to Welbore St Clair Baddeley (1856-1945) and 'Harrington' - probably Henry Nazeby Harrington (1862-1937). Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), bought a first state in 1892, possibly the one from that sale, from Keppel for $60 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690103), and a fourth state (originally from the collection of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910)) through Wunderlich's in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690303). 22 Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) acquired a third state that had been Hutchinson's (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690302).

22: Keppel to Freer, 17 September 1892, FGA 1892-6646.

Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924), owned a third state, which was later acquired by another major collector, Henry Harper Benedict (1844-1935), and came eventually, as a gift to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690304).
In 1893, the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, bought an impression, which was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1944 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690z04) and the Albertina, Vienna, acquired one in 1909 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690z05).
Early collectors included Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690102); Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924), and through Wunderlich's to Henry Harper Benedict (1844-1935) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690304), who also owned (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690413); Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690422); Charles Deering (1852-1927) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690403); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690408); James A. McCallum (1862-1948) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690404); Ralph King (1855-1926) and his wife (Graphic with a link to impression #K1690z01).