Grand'Place, Brussels

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 335
Date: 1887
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 222 x 143 mm
Signed: butterfly at right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 15
Catalogues: K.362; M.354; W.251
Impressions taken from this plate  (15)


Grand'Place, Brussels was not published officially, but is part of a 'Brussels Set'.


It was probably the etching exhibited with the New English Art Club at the Dudley Gallery in 1888, which received mixed reviews. 6 It was hung beside a pastel by Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and was described by the Manchester Guardian as 'an exquisite etching ... from one of the famous guild-houses in the "Grand Place" of Brussels.' but dismissed by the Literary World as 'unimportant'. The Echo found it 'undecipherable' but thought it had a certain charm, while the Evening Post described it vaguely as 'a delicate little etching of an old fifteenth century building, in Mr. Whistler's well-known style.' The Scotsman admired 'a soft-toned etching of the utmost delicacy' and the News of the World, 'a clever little bit'! 7 The Globe thought it 'a masterly etching of picturesque old houses' but the Yorkshire Post, while considering it was 'an excellent etching' added:

6: London NEAC 1888 (cat. no.15).

7: Manchester Guardian, 9 April 1888; Literary World, 13 April 1888; The Echo, April 1888; Evening Post, London, 4 April 1888; .Scotsman, 7 April 1888; News of the World, 15 April 1888 (GUL PC9, p. 74, 77, 80).

'But it is a mere thumbnail business, and a great deal too much is left to the imagination. Yet the art with which the delicate architecture and the lace-like enrichments of the ancient Guild Houses in the Place are indicated, rather than drawn, is very subtle and clever.' 8

8: Globe, London, 9 April 1888; Yorkshire Post, [April 1888]. (GUL PC9, p. 79).

Whistler obviously thought highly of it, and exhibited it in two international shows, first in 1889 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. In 1899 Whistler lent it to the second show of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in London; it was a modest contribution from the by-no-means-modest president of the Society. The Glasgow Evening News - also not very modest - described it as 'a Glasgow show':
'The Academy? Never mind the Academy; the Glasgow artists, like the superior Macleans at the Flood, run a boat of their own ... They call it the "International"; ... But ... the International Art Exhibition is a Glasgow show, Whistler the not reluctant outside star. The outside "star" has an apartment all to himself, "The White Room, " wherein he shows etchings, some excellent (witness "The Grande Place, Brussels); some good; some indifferent (take the trifling sketches of the Jubilee Review).' 9

9: London ISSPG 1899 (cat. no. 238); Glasgow Evening News, 22 May 1899 (GUL PC 17/57).

Another art critic remarked: 'This master of the etched line - in my opinion - the greatest we have yet had - almost surpasses himself in four or five of these things. His line has never been more musical, more deft, more palpitating than in its magic of movement in the "Amsterdam", or the "Embroidered Curtain," or "The Grande Place, Brussels"'. 10

An impression was shown by the print-dealers H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898. One impression was shown by Obach & Co. in London in 1903 and bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620104), and another at Wunderlich's, also in 1903. 11 12 Collectors lent impressions to several shows. One was lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620102). 13 Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) lent an impression to the first Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1902, and two years later to the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in Boston (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620111). 14

Then, after Whistler's death, impressions were shown in the Whistler Memorial Exhibitions, including in Boston, and at the Grolier Club in New York, both in 1904. These were followed by the other Memorial Exhibitions, including Paris in 1905, London - lent by Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) - also in 1905 (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620103), and Rotterdam, lent by John Charles Sigismund Day (1826-1908), in 1906. 15

10: 'Some Thoughts at the "International" ... ', St Paul's, 27 May 1899 (GUL PC17/61).

11: Paris Exp. Univ. 1889 ( 419)

12: London Obach 1903 (cat. no. 210). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

13: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 217).

14: Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 947 [252]); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 179).

15: London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 251); Rotterdam 1906 (cat. no. 81).


Setting the price at £12.12.0, Whistler sold impressions of Grand'Place, Brussels to the London print-dealer, Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) on 21 December 1887, and to Messrs Dowdeswell on 1 and 10 February 1888. 16

He sold a 'first state' of 'Grande Place - Brussels' in May 1888 to H. Wunderlich & Co., for £15.15.0 less 20%, and another impression for £12.12.0, plus a third in December, also at £12.12.0. 17 Whistler continued to supply Wunderlich's with impressions at £12.12.0 a time, in 1899 and 1901. 18

Whistler also sold another 'first state' to Knoedler & Co. for an even higher price, £15.15.0 on 27 July 1888. 19 In the following year he sold two at £12.12.0 each, one direct to a collector, Samuel Joshua (1833 or 1834 - d. 1907), on 14 June 1889, and one to a dealer, Durand-Ruel, on 13 December. 20

At auction it fetched barely just over half this price. An impression sold from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) at Sotheby’s, 3 March 1892 (lot 331) was bought by the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for £6.10.0 (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620107).

The final sale recorded from Whistler's studio was on 8 June 1903 to Dunthorne for a much higher price - £15.15.0 - in a sale managed by Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), since Whistler was too ill, and in fact died shortly afterwards. 21

16: GUW #13017, #13026, #13027.

17: 3 and 14 May 1888, GUW #07158, #13659; Wunderlich's Stock book 'a14401', #13, £10.1.7; #13054.

18: Wunderlich's to Whistler, 24 March 1899, GUW #07305; 16 April1901, #07330.

19: GUW #13660.

20: GUW #13036, #09068.

21: GUW #13042.

Early collectors included Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) and Clarence Buckingham (1855-1913) (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620103); the Royal Collection and Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620108); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620102); Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) and Harris G. Whittemore (d. ca 1937) (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620111); and Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) who bought one from Obach's in 1903 (Graphic with a link to impression #K3620104).