The Unsafe Tenement

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 18
Date: 1858
Medium: etching
Size: 158 x 226 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at lower right
Inscribed: 'Imp. Delatre. Rue St. Jacques. 171.' at lower left (2-3); erased (4)
Set/Publication: 'French Set', 1858
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 76
Catalogues: K.17; M.17; T.5; W.7
Impressions taken from this plate  (76)


The Unsafe Tenement was published in the Douze eaux-fortes d'après Nature (Twelve Etchings from Nature ) - the 'French Set' - in 1858, first as The Old Farm and then as The Unsafe Tenement.


As part of a published set, The Unsafe Tenement became a fairly well-known print. It was first shown in an exhibition of the work of contemporary painters at The Hague in 1863. 15

An impression was shown in Whistler's one-man show in London in 1874, and was praised by the critic of The Builder : '"The Parasol," "The Miser," and the "Old Farm" may be mentioned as showing genius and interest : the last named is a masterly study of an old picturesque building.' 16 Another impression was shown with the collection of James Anderson Rose (1819-1890) in a travelling show in Liverpool and elsewhere later in the same year. 17

In America one was shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1879 and two at the Union League Club in New York in 1881, the latter lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904). They were entitled 'The Dangerous Habitation' and described as the first 'Trial proof, with figure of a woman. The only impression.' and 'With woman removed, etc.' (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170101, Graphic with a link to impression #K0170207). 18

Impressions appeared in print dealer's shows, particularly at H. Wunderlich & Co. in 1898 - which were bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170102, Graphic with a link to impression #K0170203), and 1903, and with Keppel & Co. (1902) in New York, and Obach & Co. in London in 1903, where a first and second state were shown. 19 Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) lent an impression to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170302) and Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1902. 20

Other impressions were shown in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death, including those at the Grolier Club in New York and the Copley Society exhibition in Boston in 1904. King Edward VII lent a 'French Set' including this etching to the London Memorial show in 1905. 21

15: Hague 1863.

16: 'Mr Whistler's Etchings', The Builder, 5 July 1874 (in GUL PC1/73). London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 49).

17: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 505).

18: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 9, 10). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

19: New York 1898 (cat. no. 6).

20: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 7). Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 947 (7)).

21: New York 1904a (cat. no. 8); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 3); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 7).


Thomas de Kay Winans (1820-1878) bought Whistler's etchings including The Unsafe Tenement (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170323) in the summer of 1859 through Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), to whom he wrote on 20 June: 'I enclose two drafts on Liverpool amounting to £63 sterling and as requested by you, for the etchings - they arrived in good order and are considered very fine, doing Jemmy great credit'. 22 This was given by his descendants to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which also received one as a gift from William Loring Andrews (1837-1927) in 1883 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170322).

22: GUW #07079.

On 1 January 1861 Haden sold 16 prints to what was then the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) for £10.10.0, and in addition presented the museum with a complete 'French Set', as printed by Auguste Delâtre (1822-1907) including this etching, recorded as 'The Old Farm' (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170315). 23

23: V&A, Register for Prints, p. 33.

The British Museum bought one third state from Philippe Burty (1830-1890) in 1866 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170308) and another from Edmund Thomas (1842-1883) in 1872 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170309) and acquired a second state in 1885 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170206). William Loring Andrews (1837-1927) gave a third state to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1883 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170322).
Burty's collection went to auction in 1876, when the 'first state with the woman sweeping instead of the pitchfork' and second state 'on India paper', were sold to the print dealer, Hogarth, for £3.12.0 and £3.17.0. 24 These were reasonable prices: second states 'with the pitchfork' from the collection of John W. Wilson (dates unknown), were bought by the London print dealers Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) for £2.0.0 and Messrs Dowdeswell for £3.3.0 at Sotheby's in 1887. Over the next few years prices were low. A print from the 'Collection of Engravings & Drawings, Formed by the late George William Reid, Esq' sold to B. F. Stevens for only £1.12.0 in 1890, and one from 'a fine and almost complete set of the Etchings of James McN. Whistler' owned by the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891), sold in 1892 for £1.1.0. 25

24: Sotheby's, 30 April 1876 (lots 728, 729).

25: Sotheby's, 22-23 April 1887 (lots 172, 396); 28 February 1890 (lot 472), 3 March 1892 (lot 50).

At the William Drake (1817-1890) sale in 1892, the New York print dealer Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) paid £1.8.0 for a 'second state on India paper' but the London print dealers, Colnaghi's bought what they must have considered a more interesting impression, described as 'after the standing woman was replaced by the pitch-fork', for £6.5.0. 26 That price is more like what the entire 'French Set' sometimes fetched at auction. A complete set from the C. W. Hope collection was bought by the print dealers, Colnaghi's, for £6.0.0 in 1894. 27

26: Christie's, 8-9 March 1892 (lots 330, 331).

27: Christie's, 31 July 1894 (lot 8).

Prices remained low, but variable - at Christie's in 1897, a lot that included The Unsafe Tenement and another etching from the collection of R. Beavis fetched only £1.2.0, while a 'second state, before the sky was removed', the property of Mrs Edward Fisher of Abbotsbury, Newton Abbot, was bought by Keppel for £3.5.0. 28

28: Christie's, 17-20 February 1897 (lot 54), bought by 'Parsons'; 13-14 July 1897.

In 1909 Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) listed first states as being in the collections of himself, Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170101) and Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170102), and second states owned by himself, Freer (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170203, Graphic with a link to impression #K0170204) and Henry Harper Benedict (1844-1935) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170211). 29 Freer's impressions came originally from the collection of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) and were bought through Wunderlich's in 1898; Mansfield's have not been located. Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) and F. Keppel & Co. sold impressions to Freer (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170204), gave one to the Metropolitan in 1917 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170404) and to the Cleveland Museum of Art, in 1918 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170z10).

29: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 17).

Other early collectors included Charles Sydenham Haden (1822-1898) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170205); Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170416); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170302); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170312); Otto J. Schneider (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170328); James A. McCallum (1862-1948) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170305); Guy John Fenton Knowles (1879-1959) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170316) and Pauline Kohlsaat Palmer (1882-1956) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170z26).
Marie v. Gomperz (1870-1940) gave an impression to the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Dresden, 1904 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170320). One acquired by the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich in 1904 was destroyed during the war, in 1944 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170z13).Albert Henry Wiggin (1868-1951) gave one to the Boston Public Library (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170321). The Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, bought one from Obach & Co. in 1908, for £5.0.0 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0170310).