The Dyer

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 192
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 306 x 240 mm
Signed: butterfly at left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 10
Known impressions: 18
Catalogues: K.219; M.216; W.189
Impressions taken from this plate  (18)


The Dyer was not published.


In the catalogue for the 1883 exhibition at the Fine Art Society, Whistler added a brief quotation from the St James Gazette, namely, 'short, scratchy lines.' 8 This was taken from a review of the exhibition of the 'First Venice Set' in 1880. The original passage read:

8: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 11).

'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.' 9

9: '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). The review both pleased and irritated Whistler, and he used other sections in the catalogue entries on The Doorway [193] and Ponte Piovan [220].
At the time of the 1883 show, The Dyer received mixed reviews. The Daily News critic, responding to earlier criticisms of Whistler, wrote : "The Dyer" may be heartily commended for the qualities of "tone, and light, and shade," which, according to one of his critics, Mr. Whistler does not possess.' 10 However, the critic of the Globe commented:

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

'In consequence of the capricious mode of treatment which Mr. Whistler sometimes affects, the value of some of the works is not proportionate to the great ability which they display. ... in the study of a picturesque doorway on a canal, called "The Dyer" an otherwise admirable work is marred by the ill drawn figure of a man obtrusively introduced in the foreground.' 11

11: Anon., 'Mr Whistler's Etchings', Globe, 19 February 1883 (GUL PC 25/19).

It is possible that this criticism influenced Whistler to revise the figure of the man on the steps, many years later?
In 1893, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) lent an impression to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and he also lent this comparatively rare print to the first Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1902 and the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in Boston in 1904 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190101). 12 Another impression was lent by Mansfield's chief competitor as collector of Whistler's etchings, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), to an exhibition in Detroit in 1889 and to one organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190102). 13 Impressions were later shown at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 and by H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1903. 14

After Whistler's death two impressions, of different states, were shown at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904, and individual impressions at the Memorial shows in Paris and London in 1905. 15

12: Chicago 1893 (cat. no. 2237 [1669]); Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 947 [187] ); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 147).

13: Detroit Museum of Art, Paintings, Water Colors, Drawings Etchings..., 1889 (cat. no. 201); Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 169).


15: New York 1904a (cat. nos. 191, 191b); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 189).


Early sales were made to private collectors and dealers at various prices. Whistler sold an impression in August 1882 to Wickham Flower (b. ca 1836) for £8.8.0, and one at £6.6.0 and another at £8.8.0 to the London print dealer, Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832). 16 Whistler sold another on 12 September 1882 to H.M. The Queen at £8.8.0. 17

Several richly inked impressions were signed by Whistler for sale about 1886 or 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190203, Graphic with a link to impression #K2190303, Graphic with a link to impression #K2190405, Graphic with a link to impression #K2190z03). On 31 January 1887 Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915) asked Whistler: 'Have you any proofs of "The Dyer"? I have an application from a man in the trade in America. If you have, how much would they cost us?' It is likely that Whistler provided the Fine Art Society with an impression in response, and also sold one to Messrs Dowdeswell, who likewise asked for impressions. 18 The 'man in the trade in America' may have been Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), who wrote on 4 February 1888 to Whistler, 'have you ever done anything to the plate of "The Dyer"?' 19 Whistler's son responded: 'As yet he has not since thought of "The Dyer" - but now that it is brought to his notice he will look at it - and if any thing comes of it you shall hear.' 20 Later in the year Hermann Wunderlich (ca 1839- d.1892) reiterated their interest in the plate: 'send 3 proofs of the Dyer if you have printed the plate again - ' 21 At some point Whistler must have complied, not necessarily by printing new impressions, but taking early ones from the stock in his studio, for Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought an early (ca 1880) impression from H. Wunderlich & Co. on 25 October 1888 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190102).

16: GUW #12989; 8 and 28 August 1882, #12989, #13643. .

17: GUW #13072.

18: GUW #01188; 4 February 1887, #00888.

19: GUW #07155.

20: C.J.W. Hanson to Wunderlich's, [28?] February 1888, GUW #01964.

21: 30 September 1888, GUW #07166.

A few years later, in 1893, Whistler sold another impression to the Fine Art Society, by which time the price had risen to £10.10.0. 22 However, he retained five impressions, including unique early proofs (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190001, Graphic with a link to impression #K2190002) and a counterproof (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190003), which were in the studio at his death. These were bequeathed to Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) who gave and bequeathed them to the University of Glasgow.

Other early collectors included Peter Arrell Brown Widener (1834-1915) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190405); Mrs W. B. Cutting (m. 1877) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190z03); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190402); John L. Severance (1863-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190z02); Edward James (dates unknown) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190303); Ralph King (1855-1926) and his wife (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190z01); and Pauline Kohlsaat Palmer (1882-1956) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2190406).

22: 18 April 1893, GUW #01259.