The Doorway

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 193
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching, drypoint and roulette
Size: 295 x 204 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 20
Known impressions: 66
Catalogues: K.188; M.185; W.154
Impressions taken from this plate  (66)


It was published as The Doorway, No. 5 in Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings (the 'First Venice Set') by the Fine Art Society, London, in 1880.


The Doorway was exhibited many times, starting with Whistler's show at the Fine Art Society, London, in 1880. 26 Whistler's ability to convey light and mood with summary lines and tone rather than comprehensive detail was admired, although one critic considered that the earlier Thames etchings 'contained as striking an expression of a momentary effect or of a prevailing genius loci as we see in the best of these plates', and also thought that the earlier etchings provided more 'enjoyment in the technique':

26: London FAS 1880 (cat. no. 5).

'Their charm depends not at all upon the technical qualities so striking in his earlier work, but upon their unity and simplicity of expression. All those theoretical principles of the art, of which we have heard so much from Messrs. Haden, Hamerton, and Lalauze, are abandoned for a method which, in its simplicity and contempt for elaboration, reminds us more of the etchings of the Spaniard Goya than of any other aquafortist. The short scratchy lines, the excessive simplification and want of variety in the handling, and the use made of surface printing, all help to make up this resemblance.' 27

27: 'Mr Whistler's Venice', St James Gazette, 9 December 1880 (GUL PC15/13).

This is unusual in suggesting similarities between the work of Whistler and Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). However, although certain aspects of The Doorway, with its expressive line and precise detail - bear little relationship to Goya's work, Whistler's use of acid and foul biting to add textures to the building, and his development of character in the figures, can be compared to that of the Spanish master. The review both pleased and irritated Whistler, and he used 'short, scratchy lines' as one of the comments on The Doorway in the catalogue entry for the Fine Art Society exhibition in 1883, and the reference to Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) and Adolphe Lalauze (1838-1906) in the catalogue entry on The Dyer [192] . 28

28: London FAS 1883 (cat. nos. 13, 11).

The Globe was complimentary: 'The more elaborate architectural features in "The Doorway," "The Palaces," and others of the same class, are admirably designed, not with laborious minuteness, but with a perfect understanding of their especial character. A principal merit of these works is their unity of effect'. 29 The critic of The Times, however, admired the architecture far more than the etching and wrote a radically different review:

29: 'Mr. Whistler's Etchings,' The Globe, London, 3 December 1880 (GUL PC4/15).

'As might be expected, Mr. Whistler's talent, great as it is, occasionally fails him where he takes a subject whose beauty is alien to his sympathies - as, for instance, in the etching entitled "The Doorway," which is a rather elaborate study of the ground, or rather water floor of one of the most beautiful palaces to be found in the back canal [sic] of Venice. This palace, which is now turned into a sort of Venetian Pantechnicon, is noticeable for having the lower courses of its architecture very boldly and beautifully carved in Byzantine work, and, immediately above these, having round its door and long windows pilasters of the Renaissance period, very delicately and richly carved in low relief. ... in the etching we doubt whether many people would notice the contrast or realize the extreme beauty of the sculpture. The perfectly accurate curvature and elegant fancy of the Renaissance work is lost in the somewhat unsympathetic scratches with which Mr. Whistler has delineated the carving, and in like manner the solidity and richness of light and shade in the lower panels have also disappeared. The result is a very picturesque doorway, set in a rich frame and delightful as a picture; but what we admire in the etching is not what we should admire in the original, and one feels a little vexed at being taken to such a splendid bit of architecture and then being practically told only to look at how nicely that light and shade fall upon the chairs and tables and lounging girl which we see through the open door. ' 30

30: 'Mr Whistler's Etchings of Venice', The Times, London, 25 December 1880, p. 4 (GUL PC4/11).

The critic of the British Architect, however, did not object to Whistler's depiction of architecture - in fact he barely mentioned it, before going on to comment, rather inaccurately, on the technique:
'"The Doorway" has a deal of interesting work in it, and is somewhat distinguished from the other prints by containing a largish-sized figure which, though very lightly etched, adds to its interest. The upper part of the plate, ... [is] etched in the ordinary manner, but the water below the doorway ... seems to have been produced with a mezzo-tint tool.' 31

31: 'Mr. Whistler's etchings ...', British Architect, 10 December 1880.(GUL PC4/19).

Whistler stored up reviews from the 1880 show in order to mock critics in his catalogue for the next F.A.S. show in 1883. He edited these excerpts ruthlessly. For instance, the St James's Gazette, cited above, had praised The Doorway: 'The architectural ornaments and the interlacing bars of the gratings which flank the doorway are skilfully and subtly suggested rather than absolutely drawn.' 32 This was edited by Whistler for the 1883 catalogue to read: 'The architectural ornaments and the interlacing bars of the gratings are suggested rather than drawn.' 33

Other reviews in 1883 vary so much that one wonders if they were talking about the same etching. 'Admirable' said the Daily News: 'but the woman in the foreground is unpleasantly like one of those poor wretches, with faces eaten away by disease, now not uncommon in Italy.' 34 Another critic found it 'remarkable for the care bestowed, and successfully bestowed, upon the figure, which is certainly graceful, and which, unlike some of the figures which are suggestive and striking at a little distance, bears close inspection.' 35 Likewise, The Queen described it as 'good in tone and effect, has the figure of a girl gracefully posed, stooping forward in an archway.' 36 This suggests that the impression exhibited was in an early state, possibly the third state, before radical revisions of the figure.

Apart from being in several shows organised by the Fine Art Society, The Doorway was shown in later exhibitions arranged by print-dealers, particularly by H. Wunderlich & Co. of New York, with whom Whistler had a developing relationship through his friendship with Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932). 37

32: St James' Gazette, London, 9 December 1880, op. cit.

33: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 13). MacDonald 2001, p. 95.

34: Daily News, London, 20 February 1883; MacDonald 2001, p. 115.

35: Saturday Review, 24 February 1883.

36: Anon., 'An Arrangement in White and Yellow', The Queen, 24 February 1883 (GUL PC 25/24).

37: New York 1898 (cat. no. 133); see REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

Impression: K1880306
The Doorway was among the etchings chosen to represent Whistler in a number of international exhibitions, in Berlin, for example, in 1881 (reproduced above), and in the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889. 38 It may have been shown at the New York Etching Club in 1882 as 'Doorway, Venice'. 39

By the 1890s, there were conflicting demands for a series of exhibitions. Whistler wrote to his wife about a request from Octave Maus (1856-1919) for etchings for exhibition in 1892: 'What shall I do about Maus? I have not written a line ... or would three of the framed Venice do? "Doorway" - "Beggars" - & "Traghetto?" I dont even know that there is time -' 40 However, he satisfactorily arranged for sending impressions for exhibitions in Paris in 1892, Chicago in 1893, and in Buffalo and Glasgow in 1901 - James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901) lent an impression from his extensive collection to the latter. 41 The World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 was of particular importance in showing a representative collection of Whistler's work.

38: Berlin 1881 (cat. no. 708).

39: .

40: [30 January 1892], GUW #06608.

41: Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 225).

Fine impressions of The Doorway starred in shows for connoisseurs, showcasing private collections, and encouraging collectors to buy more or finer prints by Whistler to complete their collections. These shows had a didactic element. For instance, in the show organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900, a trial proof, first and second state of the same etching were exhibited - one of which was lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880310). 42 The 'Trial' and 'Second state' were lent by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880310).

42: Chicago 1900 (cat. nos. 136b, 135, 135a).

It also appeared in exhibitions at important public galleries, some of which were establishing a regular programme of annual exhibitions, such as the annual exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, to which Mansfield lent an impression of The Doorway in 1902. 43 Mansfield also lent his second state to the Whistler Memorial Show in Boston in 1904. 44

43: Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 947 (154)).

44: Boston 1904 (cat. no. 121).

Finally, impressions were shown in the other Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death including at the Grolier Club, New York in 1904. A complete 'First Venice Set' from the Royal Collection was shown in London in 1905, including a good impression of The Doorway. 45 This particular impression from the Royal Collection, sold through Agnew's in 1906, passed to Wunderlich's of New York and was sold to a private collector for $950 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880513). 46

45: New York 1904a (cat. no. 155); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 154).

46: Wunderlich & Co., stock books, collector #521.


Impression: K1880102
A few of the earliest impressions were printed and sold or given away to colleagues in Venice. One, for instance, was acquired by Frank Duveneck (1848-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880z12) and another - reproduced above - by Otto Henry Bacher (1856-1909) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880102).
The majority of impressions were printed by Whistler for the Fine Art Society and sold by them, often through other print dealers. Thus Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) sold a huge collection of prints to the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin including a dramatic early impression of The Doorway on Asian paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880306).
H. Wunderlich & Co. sold one in December 1888, which went to Mr and Mrs Horatio Greenough Curtis (1844 - ca 1923) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880605); prints bearing Wunderlich stock numbers include one now in the Library of Congress (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880614); and others went to Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880608); Mr and Mrs Horatio Greenough Curtis (1844 - ca 1923) in 1889 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880605); a set to Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) in 1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880607); Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880707); William P. Chapman Jr (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880712); Albert Henry Wiggin (1868-1951) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880617) and Lessing Julius Rosenwald (1891-1971) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880406). Wunderlich's also bought an impression from Deprez & Gutekunst in 1891 for £6.0.0 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880619). 47

47: Stock books, Colby College, Maine.

With the agreement of the Fine Art Society, Whistler was allowed to keep and sell the first proofs of new states of the etching. For instance, in 1887 he sold a 'unique state' to the London print dealer Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) for the high price of £15.15.0, and in 1891, a '1st proof' to Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) for £10.10.0. This has not been identified, though Keppel certainly owned an early impression of the second known state, and it may have been the one acquired in 1891 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880202). 48 As he printed the edition for the Fine Art Society, Whistler selected good impressions for important clients. In 1892 he told Marcus B. Huish:

48: 5 October 1887, GUW #13014; 13 January 1891, #13068.

'You will see that I have marked for Mr Mansfield. ... 1 "Doorway" ... For Mr E. G. Kennedy. 2. "Doorway". ... Mr Browne knows where on the back to look for these delicate signs - together with others signifying choice - There are one or two marked Ex. for you to frame and show -' 49

49: [February/August 1892?], GUW #02968.

It is not entirely clear what the 'delicate signs' were. A tiny 'o' is written on the verso of some late impressions (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880602). However, 'Ex' is written almost too delicately to be really legible on at least one (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880613). Whistler also urged the Fine Art Society to raise prices:
'Sell only two or three proofs at fifteen or sixteen guineas, and begin to ask at once 20 guineas a piece - ... look at Mr Mansfield - He said to me directly he saw them - "Of course I will have to have these! - notwithstanding that I have already [the] collection"!' 50

50: To Huish, 22 June 1892, GUW #01246; Mansfield's impression has not been located.

Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915) outlined a new set of prices for the Fine Art Society. Some etchings cost twice as much as others, dependent both on demand and on the scale and detail in the print. The Doorway was rated highly and priced (and sold) at £15.15.0. 51

Whistler sold a few impressions in later years; in 1900 he sold an impression (in this case it is not certain if it was a 'trial proof') to Wunderlich's of New York for £12.12.0, less than the Fine Art Society had asked a few years earlier, but a good price, considering that this was after Wunderlich's 20 percent discount. 52

At auction in London the prices were also lower. Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) had owned several proofs, which were sold at auction after his death, and bought by print dealers. Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) bought two 'trial proofs' for £5.2.0 and £7.10.0; Frederick Keppel (1845-1912), 'another trial proof' for £4.4.0; and Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913), 'The same, another figure introduced on the steps before the doorway' for £5.5.0. 53

51: 21 October 1892, 7 April and 4 May 1893, GUW #01257, #01258, #01261.

52: 6 April 1900, GUW #07322.

53: Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lots 240 - 243).

Other early collectors included Carl Sachs (1868-1943) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880709); Tracy Dows (1871-1937) and George W. Davison (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880404); James Parmelee (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880z02); Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880z05); and John Scott Bradstreet (1845-1914) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1880z11).