The Smithy

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 239
Date: 1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 177 x 229 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 20
Catalogues: K.240; M.237; W.197
Impressions taken from this plate  (20)


The Smithy was not published.


It was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London in 1883. To accompany this etching in the catalogue Whistler published two excerpts from earlier reviews:
"They produce a disappointing impression."
"His Etchings seem weak when framed." P. G. Hamerton.
These were accompanied by Whistler's marginal comment:
'Mr. Hamerton does also say: "Indifference to beauty is however compatible with splendid success in etching, as the career of Rembrandt proved."—Etching and Etchers. 8

8: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 34).

Thus Whistler mocked Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) for criticising in any way the work of Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn (1617-1681), and by association, suggested that, like Rembrandt, Whistler saw beauty in a wide range of subjects.
The Globe commented on the small group of non-Venetian (or not explicitly Venetian) subjects in the 1883 exhibition, mistakenly assuming that these were earlier works, but admiring them all the more:
'Some etchings of English subjects executed very many years ago are among the most attractive features of the exhibition. "Alderney Street," the very small study "Temple" and the picturesque interior "The Smithy" are remarkable among them 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. In some important qualities of art Mr. Whistler has not excelled them.' 9

9: 'Mr. Whistler's Etchings', The Globe, 19 February 1883, GUL PC25/19.

The St James Gazette singled Wheelwright [240] and The Smithy among 'six or seven ... which would bear comparison, even from the illustrative standpoint, with the best of his works in black-and-white ... The assured draughtsmanship and the unrivalled power of suggesting what is not given in so many lines, which distinguished Mr. Whistler's earlier works, are both conspicuous in these two plates.' 10

10: St James Gazette, 20 February 1883 (GUL PC25/30, PC7/31).

Ten years later, in 1893, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) lent his impression to the World's Columbian Exposition, at the artist's request, commenting: 'by leaving out "Maude" and "Speke Hall", it became possible to include "The Smithy" and "The Barber's Shop". 11 Mansfield lent again to the Whistler Memorial show in Boston in 1904. 12

Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) lent another impression to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400502). 13 In 1900 Whistler tried to borrow an impression back from Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) to include in a group of etchings for the Universal Exhibition in Paris, but it would appear this was not possible. 14 However, in 1901 an impression was exhibited at an International Exhibition in Dresden, bought for the gallery, and exhibited again in the following year among new acquisitions. 15

Print dealer's shows included H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and 1903, and Obach & Co. in London, also in 1903. 16

11: 15 May 1893, GUW #04002; Chicago 1893 (cat. no. 2255 [1670]).

12: Boston 1904 (cat. no. 152).

13: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 175).

14: [12/15 February 1900], GUW #09799.

15: Dresden 1901; Dresden 1902.


Impressions appeared in several Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death, at the Grolier Club in New York and in the Copley Society in Boston in 1904, in Paris and London in 1905, and in Rotterdam, lent by Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), in 1906. 17 She had inherited four impressions from Whistler (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400510, Graphic with a link to impression #K2400509, Graphic with a link to impression #K2400507, and Graphic with a link to impression #K2400505) but there is no way to tell which she selected for exhibition.

17: Rotterdam 1906 (cat. no. 45).


The London art dealers, Messrs Dowdeswell, after reading Wedmore's catalogue, ordered an impression of 'The Smithy', which Whistler supplied on 27 July 1887 for £6.6.0. 18 They asked for another on 27 September, but there is no record of a response. He did, however, sell them one on 16 February 1889 for £10.10.0 less 20 per cent discount. 19

On 18 July of that year Whistler noted that he had one in stock, but he must have printed more. 20 On 6 April 1891 he sold one to H. Wunderlich & Co. of New York for an intermediate price, £8.8.0. 21 This was almost certainly the one bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) from Wunderlich's in 1891 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400504).

18: Dowdeswell's to Whistler, 4 February 1887, GUW #00888; Whistler to Dowdeswell's, #08677.

19: GUW #00898; #13031.

20: GUW #13235.

21: GUW #13097.

A year later, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) apparently found some problem with an impression of The Smithy, and Whistler offered to replace it. 22 When Kennedy next visited Europe he had the opportunity to pick one up but he explained:

22: [17 June 1892], #09684.

'I did not take the "Smithy", because I shall drop around again & may "do so some more". You know I've always contended that you are unjust to the wretched "Marchand [dealer]", as you do not allow enough discount to make it any object to buy'. 23

23: 12 April 1893, GUW #07214.

However, a year later Kennedy complained:
'You did not send the "Smithy" which you promised to do & which you make no mention of. I want that "Smithy", and enclose a large memo. so that you won't forget it. It is for one of your admirers & I told him that Mr. Whistler had promised to send a fine impression.' 24

24: 20 February 1894, GUW #07231.

Eventually Whistler must have sent it - at least, in 1900 when he was trying to put together a large group of etchings for the Universal Exhibition in Paris, he asked Kennedy to lend : 'fine proof of "Smithy" - very rich interior - smith filing at window - beautiful work in roof and background -' 25

25: [12/15 February 1900], GUW #09799.

In 1901 Whistler exhibited and then sold an impression of The Smithy (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400508) among an assortment of 8 etchings and a lithograph, to the Königl. Kupferstichkabinett Dresden for £50.0.0.

Early British collectors included John Charles Sigismund Day (1826-1908) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400102, Graphic with a link to impression #K2400402), Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400104, Graphic with a link to impression #K2400302, Graphic with a link to impression #K2400503), and the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400501). In 1894 an impression at the J.M. Gray sale which 'seemed unfinished' fetched £2.7.6. 26 American collectors included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400z04), George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400506) and Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400502) as well as Freer, as mentioned above.

Hutchinson's etchings went to auction after his death. The 'first trial proof' (probably Graphic with a link to impression #K2400104) and the 'second trial proof' (possibly Graphic with a link to impression #K2400102) were sold at Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lots 295, 296) and bought by Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) of F. Keppel & Co., for £2.18.0 and £3.0.0 respectively. Lot 297, the 'third trial proof' (possibly Graphic with a link to impression #K2400302) was bought for the same sum by the London print dealer,Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851). Lot 298, the 'fourth trial proof' also went to Keppel, for £3.5.0. Lot 299, 'fifth trial proof, touched' was bought by Whistler's friend, the lithographic printer Thomas Way (1837-1915) for £3.5.0 and sold by him in 1905 to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2400503). Finally, Lot 300, the 'sixth trial proof' was bought by 'Helbridge' for £1.18.0.

26: 'J.M. Gray sale', The Academy, 17 November 1894, p. 405.