Bird-Cages, Chelsea

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 297
Date: 1887
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 153 x 230 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 8
Catalogues: K.276; M.271
Impressions taken from this plate  (8)


Bird-Cages, Chelsea was never published.


It was fairly rare and rarely exhibited. An impression was shown by H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898, and another in 1903, which was sold to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760103). 16 Another was exhibited by Obach & Co. in London in 1903. 17

Impressions were later included in several exhibitions after Whistler's death, including the big Memorial Exhibitions. It was shown, for instance, at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904; Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) lent his impression to the Boston Memorial show organised by the Copley Society in 1904 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760106) and John Charles Sigismund Day (1826-1908) to the London show of 1905. 18

16: New York 1898 (cat. no. 180); New York 1903b (cat. no. 216).


18: New York 1904a (cat. no. 321); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 207); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 297).


Whistler sold three to print dealers at £12.12.0 each. Whistler was prepared to annotate the impressions to help sell them; for instance, he wrote 'selected proof' on one (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760107), and '1st state' on another (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760109). The latter was sold to Roland F. Knoedler (1856-1932) on 27 July 1888. 19

19: GUW #13660.

In August 1888 Whistler went off to France on honeymoon, leaving his son Charles James Whistler Hanson (1870-1935) and secretary, William Bell (fl. 1886-1892), to deal with any business. In a peremptory letter to Charlie, Whistler wrote:
'Tell William this - that he had better prepare for the visit of the American from Mr Buck - and that he had better put by the very best proofs of the rare proofs - (such as "The Barrow" - The "Chelsea bird cage" etc - etc) so that they be not chosen by the buyer about whom I know nothing - and for whom one proof is as good as another -'. 20

20: [21 August 1888], GUW #08830.

J. H. Buck was an employee of the Goupil Gallery, London, but the American client is not known. The next recorded sale of 'Bird Cages' was to Messrs Dowdeswell on 17 November 1888 (when it was No. 5 in a list of etchings sold). 21 On 9 December 1888 - back from honeymoon - Whistler noted a number of impressions in stock:

21: To Dowdeswell, GUW #13028.

'Barbers Shop. 3 - 1
Bird Cages. Chel 3 -
Woods Fruit Shop 6.' 22

22: [1888/1892?], GUW #13241.

He then sold one impression ('(18) Birdcages') to Wunderlich's on 16 April 1889. 23 It is not certain if they sold it at that time, for in 1897 they still had one in stock. 24 However, 'No. 18' eventually went to the E.R. and J. Pennell Collection in the Library of Congress (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760107) and Wunderlich's also sold an impression to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1903, which he bequeathed to the Freer Gallery of Art (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760103).

By 18 July 1889 Whistler had only one 'Bird Shop (Chelsea)' left. 25 So unless he printed more, this would have been the single impression still in his studio at his death in 1903, which was bequeathed to Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), and given by her to the University of Glasgow in 1935 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760201).

23: Whistler to Wunderlich's, GUW #13055.

24: Wunderlich to Whistler, GUW #07289.

25: List, GUW #13235.

Obach & Co. sold an impression to the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin in 1908 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760108) and possibly one to Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916), which went to the Art Institute of Chicago (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760102). Knoedler & Co. handled one that was bought by Lessing Julius Rosenwald (1891-1971), and which he gave to the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (Graphic with a link to impression #K2760104).