Black Eagle

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 439
Date: 1888
Medium: etching
Size: 65 x 45 mm
Signed: butterfly at left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 2
Catalogues: K.312; M.307
Impressions taken from this plate  (2)


bird, bird of prey, eagle.


Two alternative titles are known, as follows:

'Black Eagle' (1887/1888, Whistler). 5
'An Eagle' (1902,Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932)). 6
'An Eagle' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 7
'Black Eagle' (1910, E.G. Kennedy). 8

'Black Eagle' is Whistler's original title.

5: List, [1887/1888], GUW #13233.

6: Kennedy 1902 (cat. no. 369).

7: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 307).

8: Kennedy 1910 (cat. no. 312)


A black crested eagle, looking to the right, is perched on the limb of a tree.


An Eagle. A rare bird among Whistler's etching subjects.
It is possible that what is shown is a Long-crested Eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis), a relatively small (55 cm) African eagle. It comes from the family Accipitridae, currently placed in a monotypic genus Lophaetus.
The Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis) of the family Accipitridae. the only member of the genus Ictinaetus, comes from tropical Asia. However, it does not have a crest, which Whistler's bird appears to have.
Other crested eagles include the Crested Eagle (Morphnus guianensis), which is not black, andthe Crowned Hawk-eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus), one of the largest African eagles. This is dark brown to black, with a mottled black and cream or reddish breast.


According to Joseph Pennell (1860-1926): 'This eagle was kept by Mr Serjeant Thomas at his home at High Barnet. Mr Percy Thomas made a number of drawings of the bird which were attributed to Whistler by others.' 9 This cannot be correct since Ralph Thomas, Sr (1803-1862) was long dead when this eagle was drawn by Whistler, as indeed was his son. Percy Thomas (1846-1922) could well have drawn an eagle during this period but hardly the same one said to have been kept by Serjeant Thomas around 1860 - unless it was stuffed!

9: J. Pennell, draft catalogue of Whistler's etchings (cat. no. 313), Library of Congress, Pennell Collection, Box 353.