Alderney Street

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 246
Date: 1881
Medium: etching
Size: 180 x 113 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Gazette des Beaux-Arts', 1881
No. of States: 3
Known impressions: 35
Catalogues: K.238; M.236; W.196
Impressions taken from this plate  (35)


The plate was steeled and published in the second state in the Gazette des Beaux Arts, 1 April 1881 (p. 366), with an article on 'James Whistler' by Théodore Duret (1838-1927). Impressions were printed for the G.B.A. by Alfred Cadart (1828-1875) (see for example, Graphic with a link to impression #K2380207). 14

Louis Gonse (1846-1921) had originally asked Whistler for an etching to be printed for Gazette des Beaux-Arts on 7 February 1878; this letter plus Whistler's reply, in which he claimed that without more money he could not possibly afford to be published in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, were reprinted by Whistler as 'The Opportunity Neglected' in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. 15

An electrotype reproduction with the title 'A Street in London' was published in 1885 by Sylvester Rosa Koehler (1837-1900) in his book on etching, over the type-set title 'A Street in London', opposite Koehler's description of the plate. 16 This edition is common in libraries and public collections, and is frequently seen for sale. It has an even background tone, slightly glossy surface, and is printed slightly within the edges of the plate in black on heavy-weight ivory laid paper, sometimes darkened to cream or buff, with a sheet size of ca 343 x 240 mm. 17 It was reproduced from the Gazette des Beaux-Arts impression, with the clean-wiped band along the plate edges, which is not found in pencil-signed impressions of any state. 18 One of these electrotypes was added to the collection of Boston Museum of Fine Arts while Koehler was curator of prints (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380209). There are a number of the electrotypes in public collections, and several examples are included in our catalogue (i.e. Graphic with a link to impression #K2380z05, reproduced below). 19

14: Duret 1881.

15: GUW #01650; Whistler 1890, pp. 181-83.

16: Koehler 1885, p. 162.

17: These electrotypes have sometimes been trimmed so the sheet size is smaller.

18: In these reproductions, there is a squiggly thread or hair in the image at upper left that must have been on the plate/negative. The small scratches that appear in the first three states of the etching, do not appear in the reproduction.

19: The identical electrotype may have been printed without the lettering, but details have not been confirmed.

Impression: K2380209
Alderney Street dates from 1881 and was not, as has been asserted, published in Etchings, with descriptive text by George W.H. Ritchie and others, by Dodd & Mead in 1880. 20

20: The 1880 book is in a larger format, with pages measuring 428 x 306 mm.


It was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society, London, in 1883. 21 In the catalogue, Whistler twinned it with an excerpt from a comment by Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921): 'The best art may be produced with trouble' plus a marginal quote, also from Wedmore, 'I am not a Mede nor a Persian'. Both references are somewhat cryptic. According to the Book of Daniel, in the King James Bible, 'The law of the Medes and Persians, ... cannot be repealed' (Daniel 6:8) and resulted in Daniel's encounter with the lions, when, luckily for Daniel, 'God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions.' (Daniel 6:21) Whistler may have considered himself as thrown to the critics, and shutting their mouths!

21: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 33). See REFERENCES : EXHIBITIONS.

Reviewers barely noticed it among the more elaborate and atmospheric Venetian etchings. The Saturday Review dismissed it as 'sketchy scratchy stuff ... with its phantom horses and cabs and figures,' while the Globe praised it, with The Little Wheelwright's [261] and The Smithy [239], as among the 'most attractive features of the exhibition ... remarkable ... for their firm and expressive draughtsmanship, their suggestiveness and simplicity of style. There is scarcely a superfluous line in them or a touch without its purpose.' 22 A detail was reproduced in the journal Knowledge, with the laboured comment: 'A reminiscence of No. 33, Alderney -street; but the animal we suppose is not an Alderney cow, although certainly not a horse, notwithstanding the shaft and blinkers'. 23

22: 'Mr. Whistler's Exhibition', Saturday Review, 24 February 1883 (GUL PC 25/32); 'Mr. Whistler's Etchings', Globe, 19 February 1883 (GUL PC 25/19).

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

Impressions were exhibited later by other print dealers, particularly by H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1883, 1898 and 1903, and Obach & Co. in London in 1903. Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) lent an impression to an exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380107). 24

Following Whistler's death impressions were exhibited in the major Memorial Exhibitions including the Grolier Club, New York, in 1904. King Edward VII lent another to the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in London in 1905. 25

24: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 174).

25: New York 1904a (cat. no. 198); London Mem. 1905


Early impressions of the first state include one printed in 1881 and acquired by George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380105).

An impression of 'Alderney Street' was sold by Whistler on 22 October 1886 to the London print dealer Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) for £5.5.0. 26

26: McLean to Whistler, GUW #03725, #13010.

One impression of the first state was trimmed to the platemark and signed with a butterfly on the tab about 1886 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380103) presumably for sale at that time. A year later, in 1887, Whistler sent one to Messrs Dowdeswell and charged £6.6.0, but was presumably not pleased to have it returned. 27

At auction, an impression fetched only £0.15.0 in 1889, and one from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) fetched only a little more, £1.0.0, bought by the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) in 1892. 28

27: 27 July 1887, GUW #08677; 10 August 1887, #00892.

28: Sotheby's, 12 December 1889 (lot 784) bought by 'Wynne'; 3 March 1892 (lot 294).

The artist sold impressions to H. Wunderlich & Co. for £6.6.0 on 3 and 14 May 1888, and although the records are not entirely clear, it appears they had sold one, but still had one in stock, in 1897. They sold an impression of the first state to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) on 17 August 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380103). 29

29: GUW #13051, #13659; 24 September 1897 #07287 and 16 April 1901 #07330 .

Other early owners of the first state included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380115); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380106); Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380107); of impressions from the 1881 edition, John Henry Wrenn (1841-1911) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380205) and Herbert Fitzpatrick (1872-1962) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380208); and of the 1885 electrotype, Robert Koehler (1850-1917) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2380z05).