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St James's Street

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 178
Date: 1878
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 275 x 155 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower left (3-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 36
Catalogues: K.169; M.165; W.140
Impressions taken from this plate  (36)
Whistler etched St James's Street on 21-22 June 1878.
In 1878 Whistler was asked by Thomas Gibson Bowles (1842-1922) to make an etching to be reproduced in the journal Vanity Fair. Whistler decided to draw the view looking down St James's Street from the Albemarle Hotel and planned to lunch there, but did not have enough money to pay. He wrote pleadingly to Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890):
"Do come tomorrow to the hotel at about 3 o'clock - and can you possibly bring a quid or more - Bowles will probably be there and the position may be absurd about paying the ridiculous little lunch to the landlord - the etching is I think you will say superb! - The cheque doubtless forthcoming, and the ship ought not to be damaged for a 'ha'porth of tar'." 1

1: Whistler to Howell, [21 June 1878], GUW #02780.

At the same time, on 21 June 1878, just in case Howell failed to turn up, Whistler also wrote to Walter Theodore Watts (1832-1914):
'The etching for Tommy Bowles is about finished - and very fine I believe - I am to complete it tomorrow - / I do wish you could look in at the Albermarle [sic] Hotel - corner of Albermarle St - and Piccadilly - I am up there on the Terrace - ask for me and you will be shown up - Come at 3. o'clock or before - 2 if you can would be better - Bowles comes at half past - he will be ready to pay immediately - but there might be an awkward moment about a few shillings that I have had to order in the way of lunch and that I couldn't let Vanity Fair suppose I required - Cant you help me for the nonce?'. 2

2: Whistler to T. Watts-Dunton, [21 June 1878], GUW #07380.

A week later reports of Whistler's activities were in the newspapers. According to the Daily Gazette for Middlesborough the artist wore 'a somewhat lugubrious and cynical expression', 3 possibly because he was worried about the bill! Reports appeared in many provincial papers, and were clearly 'puffs' to publicise the etching when it was published:

3: 6 July 1878, p. 4.

'During the last few days Mr Whistler may have been descried by his friends, armed with opera glasses, seated in a somewhat prominent position on the parapet of the Albemarle Hotel, apparently gazing into space. His real occupation was etching on a copper-plate a view of St James's - street at full tide. This etching, which will be of a larger size than most of those usually executed by Mr Whistler, is to appear as the frontispiece of the next volume of ''Vanity Fair''. But it is understood that copies will subsequently be sold separately'. 4

4: The Leeds Mercury, 28 June 1878.