The Embroidered Curtain

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 451
Date: 1889
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 239 x 161 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 10
Known impressions: 27
Catalogues: K.410; M.411
Impressions taken from this plate  (27)


It was never published. However, it is part of Whistler's clearly defined but unpublished 'Amsterdam Set'.


It was exhibited from 1890 on: first at Dunthorne's gallery in London, and then in New York, when Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) lent an impression to an exhibition at the Grolier Club (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100402). 25 It was also shown by H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and 1903. 26

Impressions were included in several international exhibitions, including the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, lent by Walter Steuben Carter (1824-1904). 27 One was shown by the International Society of Sculptors, painters and Gravers in London in 1899, when Whistler was President. An 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". 28

An impression was lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club, Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100102). 29 Yet another fine impression was sent by Whistler to the International exhibition in Dresden in 1901 (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100704), being bought from the show by the Kupferstich-kabinett and shown again in the following year. 30 Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) lent his late impression to the annual show at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1902 (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100705). 31

Finally impressions appeared in the Whistler Memorial shows after the artist's death; including four different impressions shown at the comprehensive Grolier Club exhibition in New York in 1904, one at the Boston show in 1904 (lent by Carter), one in Paris in 1905, and one lent by Herbert Charles Jerome Pollitt (1871-1942) to the London show in 1905. 32

25: London Dunthorne 1890; New York 1890a. See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

26: New York 1898 (cat. no. 271); New York 1903b (cat. no. 236).

27: Chicago 1893 ( 2264 (1685)).

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

29: London ISSPG 1899 (cat. no. 241); Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 292).

30: Dresden 1901; Dresden 1902 .

31: Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 947 [276]).

32: New York 1904a (cat. nos. 289 a-e); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 195); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 356).


The Embroidered Curtain, Amsterdam and The Dance House: Nocturne [455] were the two best-sellers in the 'Amsterdam Set' although The Embroidered Curtain, Amsterdam was among the last to be completed and available for sale. It was not until 3 April 1890 that Beatrice Whistler sent Wunderlich & Co. three 'trial proofs' at £10.10.0 each (Graphic with a link to impression #), and wrote:
'These are all that Mr Whistler can spare at this minute, some of them are on Japanese paper - / The proofs of the "Embroidered Curtain" are trial proofs - I thought you would like to have them, as they will be "curious" - / When the plate is completed we will send you a proof - '. 33

33: GUW #06585; Heijbroek 1997, p. 92.

Later that month, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) heard that these proofs were in New York. He wrote to Whistler:
'By the way, I have just received word from N. Y. of the arrival there of another new etching by you entitled "The Lace Curtain" will you be so kind as to send me one; choosing a good impression and writing my name on the back -'. 34

34: 28 April 1890, GUW #01501.

On 6 May 1890 Wunderlich's bought a '1st Proof', for £12.12.0. Whistler wrote 'Trial proof / for Wunderlich' on the verso of one early impression, possibly this, which was bought by George Washington Vanderbilt (1862-1914) (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100z02). Wunderlich's ordered another impression on 31 July, which was sent on 11 August 1890. Later acquisitions are not always recorded fully, but they seem to have bought one in the summer of 1897 and another in 1900, all at the same price. They always got 20 per cent discount on these prices. At their request, Whistler wrote 'for Wunderlich' on a late impression, and signed it with the butterfly (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100504). 35

35: 31 July 1890, GUW #07191; 19 September 1890, #13059; [August 1897], #07289; 6 April 1900, #07322.

Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) also saw and heard of the Wunderlich stock of Amsterdam etchings, and on 15 May 1890 he complained to the artist:
'It has given me pleasure to note the favor which your Amsterdam etchings have met with here ... My pleasure, however, has been tinged with chagrin as I have seen other collectors have the choice which I have been wont to have of the proofs which have come to our printsellers ... But nearly two months have gone without reply to my letter, so that to-day I am uncertain whether or not I have or ever shall have fine proofs of The Mill, The Bridge, The Little Drawbridge, and The Embroidered Curtain. / ... But I fear that I can never get a fine proof of The Embroidered Curtain except from you. Freer should also have a fine proof of that, for no one appreciates your recent work more than he. His may be sent to me.' 36

36: GUW #03989.

There was a further delay but on 21 July Whistler finally sent Mansfield a bill for 'Embroidered Curtain'. 37 Meanwhile Beatrice Whistler had already sent some proofs (priced at £12.12.0) direct to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), and wrote:

37: 21 July [1890], GUW #13048.

'I have included two trial proofs of the "Lace Curtain", / If you remember - you saw it. They are early proofs - when the plate is completed you can exchange them for others - if you wish - / Wunderlich has one or two of them - ' 38

38: B. Whistler to Freer, [15 May 1890], GUW #11667; W. Bell to Freer, 17 May 1890, #13794; Heijbroek 1997, p. 91.

Possibly Whistler was fending off criticism by saying that the plate was not completed. Anyway, Freer was apparently happy, and passed the word to his colleague, Frank J. Hecker (1846-1927), so on 16 June Whistler sent two more impressions of what he then called 'Lace Curtain', one presumably being for Hecker. 39 Finally in 1902 Freer bought - or ordered - another impression from Whistler (probably Graphic with a link to impression #K4100402). 40

39: Whistler to C. L. Freer, 16 June [1890], GUW #13066.

40: [4 September 1902],#11701.

One set of the Dutch etchings, hardly surprisingly, went to Holland, where Elbert Jan Van Wisselingh. (1848-1912) bought eight Amsterdam etchings including 'Embroidered Curtain'. 41 A fine impression is now in the Municipal Archives in Amsterdam (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100603) and another, with delicately wiped surface tone, in the Rijksmuseum (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100506), but the latter was acquired after Whistler's death from his executrix, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958).

41: GUW #13239.

In 1901 Whistler sold eight etchings including a late impression of The Embroidered Curtain, Amsterdam (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100704) and a lithograph for £50.0.0 to the Kupferstich-kabinett Dresden. This impression had been exhibited in an international show in Dresden in 1901 and was shown again in the following year in a show of recent acquisitions. 42
Back in London, Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) bought one on 24 December 1902 at nearly twice the usual rates - £21.0.0 - and a second on 8 June 1903 from the seriously ill artist for an even higher price - £26.5.0, less the usual 20 percent discount. 43

43: GUW #13040.

Early collectors in America included Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100102); John Henry Wrenn (1841-1911) (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100302); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100503); Henry Harper Benedict (1844-1935) (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100607); Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100703); and George Washington Vanderbilt (1862-1914) (Graphic with a link to impression #K4100z02).