The Dance House: Nocturne

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 455
Date: 1889
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 274 x 169 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 17
Catalogues: K.408; M.407; W.265
Impressions taken from this plate  (17)


canal, dancing, house, laundry, nocturne, lantern, people, red light district, washing.


There are many slight variations in the title and punctuation, as follows:

'The Dance. House. Nocturne' (1890, Whistler). 1
'Nocturne The (Dancing [deleted]) Dance House -) Amsterdam' (1890, Whistler). 2
'Nocturne (Dancing Saloon [deleted]) Dance House.) Amsterdam' (1890, Whistler). 3
'Nocturne - Dance House' (1890, Whistler). 4
'The Dance House (Nocturne)' (1890, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919)). 5
'The Dance House Nocturne' (1890, Whistler). 6
'Dance House Nocturne' (1890/1891, Whistler). 7
'"The Dancing house" [Amsterdam]' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 8
'Nocturne – Dance House, Amsterdam' (1898, Wunderlich's). 9
'Nocturne, Amsterdam' (1899, ISSPG). 10
'Nocturne: Dance House' (1899, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 11
'The Dance House, Nocturne Amsterdam' (1903/1935, possibly Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958)). 12

Whistler gradually evolved the title (crossing out 'Dancing Saloon' and 'Dancing House' in various lists). The two main queries are whether to put the word 'Nocturne' first or last, and whether to include the place, Amsterdam, in the title. 'The Dance. House. Nocturne', Whistler's original title, has particularly eccentric punctuation.

'The Dance House: Nocturne', with added punctuation, is the preferred title.

1: To R. Dunthorne, 17 February 1890, GUW #13039.

2: To H. Mansfield, 4 March 1890, GUW #13047.

3: To C. L. Freer, 4 March 1890, GUW #13065.

4: To Dowdeswell's, 6 March 1890, GUW #13804.

5: Freer to Whistler, 28 April 1890, GUW #01501.

6: To South Kensington Museum, 2 July 1890, GUW #13044.

7: List, [1890/1891], GUW #13236.

8: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

9: New York 1898 (cat. no. 265).

10: London ISSPG 1899 (cat. no. 243).

11: Wedmore 1899 (cat. no. 265).

12: Envelope containing copper plate, University of Glasgow.


The rays of a lantern just to left of centre and the lights from many windows in a three-storey building above are reflected in the dark waters of a canal.


This is a view of the Oudezijdskolk, Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It shows the back of the buildings on Sint Olofsteeg, in the city's red-light district. 13 The Square House, Amsterdam [454], reproduced below, shows the same building by day.

13: Heijbroek 1997, pp. 66, 70.

Impression: K4040203


Whistler made two 'Nocturnes' in Amsterdam, this and Little Nocturne, Amsterdam [456]. They are his last etched 'Nocturnes'. This one was mentioned in 'A Chat With Mr Whistler' on 13 March 1890:
'The man who only knows Mr Whistler as the gay, versatile farceur thinks that he leads butterfly existence. But - excepting the famous emblem - Mr Whistler is not one of the Lepidoptera. In Amsterdam he began early and worked into the night, defying the searching blasts and the withering weather. Here, for instance, is the nocturne of the series, a wonderful representation of night on one of the canals, the weird and ghostlike gloom being shown by a brilliant flash of light from a lantern paced in one of the mullioned windows above. Mr Whistler has often been joked about his nocturnes, in private and in a court of law. But his retort is true enough. Night has no form - gloom no length or breadth. This particular nocturne, however, is full of the most delicate and elaborate detail when your eyes have accustomed themselves to the lantern flash.' 14