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)


forge, furnace, glass-furnace, interior, nocturne, people, worker.


Variations in the title and punctuation are as follows:

'Murano - Glass Furnace' (1883, Fine Art Society). 1
'Murano - Glass Furnace' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 2
'Murano Glass Furnace' (1889, Whistler). 3
'Murano - Glass blowers. Venice' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 4
'Murano Glass Works' (1903/1935, possibly Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958)). 5
'Glass-Furnace, Murano' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 6

The original title, 'Murano - Glass Furnace' is preferred, although Beatrice Whistler's version, specifying the actual workers, is an interesting alternative.

1: London FAS 1883 (cat. no.1).

2: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 187).

3: Whistler to Dowdeswell, 16 February 1889, GUW #13031.

4: List, GUW #12715.

5: Envelope containing the copper plate, University of Glasgow

6: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 214).


In the centre of a two-storey workroom is a large furnace, with workmen around it. The glass-workers include a man standing with hands on hips behind the furnace at left; a man in front of the furnace, at left, bending over and balancing a rod in his hands; and two figures, leaning back at right, in a blaze of light from the furnace, who are probably glass-blowers. Groups of spectators stand in the foreground at left and distance to right of the furnace. To left, beyond the furnace, are open windows and a double doorway.


Comparative image
Glass furnace, Murano, 2005.
Photograph©M.F. MacDonald, Whistler Etchings Project.
The island of Murano in the Mediterranean, near Venice, Italy, is famous for its glass work. 7

Whistler apparently loved the subject but did not particularly like the glass. When he received a crystal flower from Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921), he wrote:

7: Grieve 2000, pp.72, 175.

'Non! ces verres là ne se font plus à Murano! - / Voilà trois siècles qu'ils ont oublié la simplicité joyeuse, la légereté grave, et le caprice d'imagination necessaire pour produire le petit chef d'oeuvre que vous nous envoyez de Paris'. 8
(Translated: 'No! those glasses are no longer made in Murano! - It is three centuries since they forgot the joyous simplicity, the light solemnity, and the flight of imagination necessary to produce the little masterpiece which you send us from Paris').

8: [January 1890], GUW #04123.

Curiously, Murano - Glass Furnace was among works that the artist may have been printing and was certainly selling at the time he wrote to Montesquiou denying the artistry - if not the craftsmanship - of their work.


Forges, furnaces and smiths are a recurrent subject in Whistler's work: the forge provided a warm place to work, and possibilities for dramatic lighting and complex figure compositions. These include several etchings (The Forge [86], Nocturne: Furnace [208], The Smithy [239], Wheelwright [240] and Flaming Forge [490]); an oil painting, The Little Forge, Lyme Regis [y442]; a number of lithographs (The Tyresmith [c036], The Whitesmiths, Impasse des Carmélites [c092], The Forge, Passage du Dragon [c102], The Smith, Passage du Dragon [c103], The Master Smith [c120], The Sunny Smithy [c121], The Good Shoe [c122], Father and Son [c123], The Strong Arm [c125], The Blacksmith [c127] and The Brothers [c128]); and some related drawings. 9

9: Study for 'The Little Forge' (K.147) [m0574], Sketch of 'The Whitesmiths, Impasse des Carmélites' [m1417], Sketches of 'The Forge: Passage du Dragon' and 'The Smith: Passage du Dragon' [m1450], r.: The Blacksmith's, Howth; v.: Horse in a stable [m1619], r.: The Forge; v.: Smiths, Ajaccio [m1679], The Flaming Forge, Ajaccio [m1678].