Bead Stringers

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 235
Date: 1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 229 x 154 mm
Signed: butterfly at left (8-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Second Venice Set', 1886
No. of States: 11
Known impressions: 40
Catalogues: K.198; M.195; W.164
Impressions taken from this plate  (40)


It was published by Messrs Dowdeswell and Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) with the Twenty-six Etchings (the 'Second Venice Set') in 1886; Whistler delivered in all 1093 prints and was paid £2.10.6 for printing each dozen prints. 9

9: Dowdeswell to Whistler, invoice, 16 July 1887, GUW #00891.


It was exhibited as 'Bead Stringers' at the Fine Art Society in London in 1883. Whistler's catalogue entry quoted an earlier undated and delightfully vague press notice: " 'Impressionistes,' and of these the various schools are represented by Mr Whistler, Mr Spencer Stanhope, Mr Walter Crane, and Mr Strudwick." 10 The italics are Whistler's and he added a printed comment in the margin, 'Et voilà comme on Ecrit l'histoire.' (And that is how they write history). This may suggest that Whistler considered Bead Stringers as the antithesis of any form of Impressionism, or that he could not really be associated with any particular movement or group.

10: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 5). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

An impression was also included in the American version of the F.A.S. exhibition by H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1883. 11 It struck a chord with art critic of the New York Mail and Express, who gave a somewhat sentimental, subjective description of it, and indignantly countered early criticisms of Whistler's work:

11: New York 1883 (cat. no. 5). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

'Note the old woman's weariness, the young mother's joy, the big-eyed, wondering baby, the girl, half idling, half playing with the child - every face full of expression, and each body studied to match each face. Surely a man blind to "the character of humanity" could never have drawn such a group as that.' 12

12: 'The Whistler Exhibition,' New York Mail and Express, 24 October 1883 (GUL PC4/12).

Impressions were shown in later exhibitions at Wunderlich's, in 1898 and 1903, and by Obach & Co. in London in 1903. An impression was lent by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (either Graphic with a link to impression #K1980803, Graphic with a link to impression #K1980402 or Graphic with a link to impression #K1980403). 13 An impression from the collection of James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901) starred in the International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1901. 14

13: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 144).

14: Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 226).

After Whistler's death impressions were exhibited in the comprehensive Memorial exhibitions in Boston , New York, Paris and London. Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) lent one to the Whistler Memorial show in London in 1905. 15

15: New York 1904a (cat. no. 166); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 164).


'The bead Stringers' is mentioned in a sale made by Whistler to the Fine Art Society in 1884 where it sold for £5.5.0. At a Christie's auction in 1888 it brought only £0.10.0, and at the sale of the important collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) in 1892, a late impression of 'Bed-Stringers' (sic) was bought by Thomas Way (1837-1915) for £2.2.0 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980803). Way then sold it to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1902. 16 In 1902, another - earlier - impression was sold by Whistler direct to Freer, for £8.8.0 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980402), and one was sold by the artist to the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for £12.12.0. 17 Either Whistler was a better salesman than the auction houses, or he kept the finer and rarer proofs for sale. Freer had already bought an impression of an earlier state from Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) of F. Keppel & Co. in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980403) - being keen to have impressions of the several very different versions of the composition.

16: 23 June 1884, F.A.S. to Whistler, GUW #01175; Christie's, 27 November 1888 (lot 163); Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 259).

17: 24 December 1902, Merrill 1995, p. 164 (Letter 67); GUW #13040.

From 1886 most impressions were sold by Messrs Dowdeswell and Thibaudeau with the 'Second Venice Set'. Dowdeswell's gave a set including an impression of Bead Stringers to the British Museum in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980805) and Arthur Haythorne Studd (1863-1919) bequeathed an early and later impression to the Museum in 1929 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980403, Graphic with a link to impression #K1980703). Thibaudeau sold a set for £52.10.0 through Gustave Lauser (b. ca 1841) to H. Wunderlich & Co. in May 1888, and it was bought by Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) in 1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980806).
Other early American collectors included George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980502); Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980801); Charles Deering (1852-1927) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980802); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980503); Walter Stanton Brewster (1872-1954) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980901, Graphic with a link to impression #K1980905); Harris G. Whittemore (d. ca 1937) and Emma Regina Martin (1921-2009) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1980z03).