Murano - Glass Furnace

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 205
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: drypoint
Size: 161 x 238 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 7
Catalogues: K.217; M.214; W.187
Impressions taken from this plate  (7)


Murano - Glass Furnace was not published.


Murano - Glass Furnace was first exhibited in the Fine Art Society in London in 1883 and was the first entry in Whistler's catalogue, where it was twinned with a cryptic quotation from Knowledge: 'Criticism is powerless here.' 13 This implies that critics would not understand the drypoint and therefore should not comment it - or indeed on any of his work. Unforunately most critics in 1883 ignored it and the Daily News, did not attempt to understand it:

13: London FAS 1883 (cat. no.1); see REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

'The first etching (we suppose it is an etching) is called "Murano. Glass Furnace." It skilfully avoids any infringement of the commendment against making images of any objects known to man. Vaguely one discerns some oblong things, and some bristly things, of unfamiliar character.' 14

14: 'Mr Whistler's Etchings', Daily News, 20 February 1883 (GUL PC25/20).

At the same time, another art critic went into raptures, not exactly about this drypoint (although Murano is mentioned in passing) but about the truth of Whistler's images of Venice:
'Venice scenes and Venice subjects, Venice shipping, and Venice shops, Venice men and women, from gondoliers to bead-stringers, Venice from the Riva degli Schiavoni to the Rialto, from the Salute to Murano, from San Biagio to the Long Lagoon, from San Giorgio to the Piazzetta, from the Islands to the Grand Canal, we have the "glorious City in the sea," set down in black and white - set down, too, by one who certainly can claim to originality of treatment. In fine, Venice as she is in odd corners, Venice from new points of view, palaces and bridges, Venice trades and traders, shops and stalls, the glass blowers of Murano, the wheelwright, the fish shop, ... fruit stalls, with the fruits of the land, ... wool carders and beggars, gondolas and bragezzos; Venice as she is, not the Venice of the scene painters ...' 15

15: 'An Arrangement in White and Yellow', [February 1883], unidentified press-cutting, GUL PC25/26.

A detail of a figure from this drypoint was reproduced in the journal Knowledge, with the comment: 'A memory from No.1, pleasingly called by Mr. Whistler a Glass Furnace, but which might be anything, from an inside room in Noah's Ark to a warm corner in Hades'! 16

16: Knowledge, III, 6 April 1883, pp. 208-9, repr.

Later Murano - Glass Furnace was shown at print dealer's shows, by H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, for instance, in 1883, 1898, and at Obach & Co. in London in 1903 - when an impression was bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170302). 17 Another - possibly bought from Wunderlich's - was lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) to a show organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170202). 18

17: London Obach 1903 (cat. no. 164).

18: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 167).

Impressions appeared in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death, at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904, in Paris in 1905, and, lent by Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934), in London, also in 1905 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170401). 19

19: London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 187).


Early impressions must have been sold either while Whistler was in Venice, or in the mid-1880s - one, for instance, bought by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), is signed with a butterfly dating from 1885/1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170201). Messrs Dowdeswell, after consulting Wedmore's catalogue of Whistler's etchings, wrote to Whistler to request impressions of a number of etchings, including this. 20 Whistler sold three impressions of 'Murano Glass Furnace' to Dowdeswell's more or less by return of post, on 16 February 1889, and another on 3 August 1889, for £5.5.0 each. 21

20: 4 February 1887, #00888.

21: GUW #13031, #13092.

One of the Dowdeswell batch was almost certainly a final state of the drypoint bought by Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170401). Another - a third state - was bought by John Charles Sigismund Day (1826-1908) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170302); in 1906 this was with Obach & Co., in London and was bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919). Freer had already bought a fourth state from Obach's in 1903 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170302). Both are likely to have come originally from Dowdeswell's, and were bequeathed with the rest of his important collection to the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Another impression that may have come from Dowdeswell's was owned by Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) and bought after his death by Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915) of Duprez & Gutekunst for £1.18.0. 22

22: Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 282).

Whistler himself sold another impression in 1899 to H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, for a relatively high price, £10.10.0. 23 From Deprez and Wunderlich's, these impressions may have gone to important American collectors, such as Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170103), Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170102), Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170201) or Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2170202). From these, the prints travelled either directly or through others to major American collections: the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

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