Nocturne: Furnace

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 208
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 171 x 233 mm
Signed: butterfly at left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Second Venice Set', 1886
No. of States: 12
Known impressions: 46
Catalogues: K.213; M.210; W.183
Impressions taken from this plate  (46)


It was published by Messrs Dowdeswell and Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) with A Set of 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.


Nocturne: Furnace was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society, London, in 1883. In the catalogue written and designed by Whistler this etching was twinned ironically with an earlier review from the Richmond Eagle, which reads, 'There is no moral element in his chiaroscuro.' 10 In using this quote, mocking the idea that 'morality' had any place in an image of a forge at night (however dramatic or atmospheric that scene might be) Whistler was reinforcing his aesthetic position as stated in 'The Red Rag' in 1878:

10: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 44).

'Art should be independent of all clap-trap--should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like.' 11

11: The World, 22 May 1878.

Nocturne: Furnace was, on the whole, neglected by the critics in 1883. A dismissive comment in Bazaar read only 'nocturnes of Shipping, Dawn, Furnace, or Salute, are something more than disappointing.' 12 However, in October the New York Mail and Express called their readers' attention to 'the little figure ... of the man before the furnace, for which all the rest of the plate seems to be only a framing, ... how tenderly, how skilfully, how beautifully it is touched in!' 13

Furthermore, a brief exhibition of the 'Second Venice Set' at the Hogarth Club in 1887 inspired one art critic to write lyrically:

12: 'Fine Art', Mr Whistler's Exhibition', Bazaar, 28 February 1883 (GUL PC6/43).

13: 'The Whistler Exhibition,' New York Mail and Express, 24 October 1883 (GUL PC3/61).

'We should like to draw attention next to "San Biagio," "Furnace Nocturne," and the "Garden." These are all seen for the first time in their perfected condition, and they belong to the set which Messrs Dowdeswell are now publishing. ... In "Furnace Nocturne" the view is from a narrow canal, and that which is beheld is the effective glare and gloom of furnace and obscure water. One part of the little picture is shrouded in shadow; the other palpitates with light.' 14

14: Anon., 'Mr Whistler's Etchings', The Standard, London, 3 March 1887 (GUL PC7/18-19).

Print dealers' shows included H. Wunderlich & Co., New York in 1883, 1898, and 1903, Hogarth in London in 1887, Obach & Co., also in London, in 1903 and F. Keppel & Co., New York in 1902 and 1904. 15

An impression of Nocturne: Furnace was exhibited at a show organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900, lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130601). 16 James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901) lent one to the Glasgow International of 1901. 17

After Whistler's death, impressions were shown in the Whistler Memorial Exhibitions, as many as four different states being shown at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904, one in Boston (lent by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)) in 1904, and another in London in 1905. 18


16: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 163).

17: Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 219 ).

18: New York 1904a (cat. nos. 185a-d); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 144 ); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 182).


Whistler sold an impression on 28 August 1882 to the London print dealer, Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) for £4.4.0. 19 He also sold two to the Fine Art Society on 6 March 1884 but the price is not specified. 20

However, most were sold through Messrs Dowdeswell and Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) as part of the 'Second Venice Set'. Dowdeswell's gave one set to the British Museum in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130703). Thibaudeau sold one with a set through Gustave Lauser (b. ca 1841) and H. Wunderlich & Co. to Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) in 1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130605). Dowdeswell's sold a seventh state to Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934), and this was sold though Colnaghi's and Knoedler's to Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130405). Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought a heavily inked impression of the seventh state from F. Keppel & Co. in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130403); and a third state from Thomas Way (1837-1915) in 1905 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130202).

19: GUW #13643.

20: GUW #13091.

At auction prices were consistently low. Gustave Lauser (b. ca 1841), for instance, bought one at Christie’s, 27 November 1888 (lot 182) for £1.10.0, and the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) bought another from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) at Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 278) for £1.3.0.

Whistler sold a few impressions (presumably proofs of different states), including one to the Fine Art Society, London, on 18 April 1893 for £5.5.0. 21 and one to H. Wunderlich and Co., New York, in 1898 for £6.6.0. 22 Finally he sold one on 24 December 1902 to Dunthorne for £12.12.0, reflecting the late and general increase in his prices. 23

21: GUW #01259.

22: Wunderlich's to Whistler, 24 March 1899, GUW #07305.

23: GUW #13040.

Impressions of several different states were in Whistler's studio at his death and bequeathed to Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) who left them to the University of Glagow (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130603, Graphic with a link to impression #K2130203, Graphic with a link to impression #K2130502, Graphic with a link to impression #K2130803).
Early collectors included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130407); George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130404); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130602); John Henry Wrenn (1841-1911) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130702); Wilson King (b. ca 1847) and his wife (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130z01); Clarence Buckingham (1855-1913) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130402); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130706); Herschel V. Jones (1861-1928) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130z06); Albert Henry Wiggin (1868-1951) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130709); Francis Bullard (1862-1913) and Harris G. Whittemore (d. ca 1937) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130408); Walter Stanton Brewster (1872-1954) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130801, Graphic with a link to impression #K2130805); R. Woods Bliss (b. 1875) and Emma Regina Martin (1921-2009) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130z02). Ernest Stephen Lumsden (1883-1968) acquired the unique proof printed by Salmon, and his wife later sold it to the National Gallery of Scotland (Graphic with a link to impression #K2130303).