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The Church - Brussels (Adoration)

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 340
Date: 1887
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 213 x 124 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 9
Catalogues: K.356; M.352; W.249
Impressions taken from this plate  (9)


architecture, church, people, interior.


There are several variations on the title, as follows:

'Church' (1887/1888, Whistler). 1
'The Church – Brussels (Adoration)' (1888, Whistler). 2
'Church Brussels' (1890/1891, Whistler). 3
'Church Interior, Brussels' (1909, Wunderlich's). 4
'The Church, Brussels' (1899, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 5
'Church, Brussels' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 6

The title of 'The Church – Brussels (Adoration)' was used more than once by Whistler and is appropriate - if ironic - because it shows the congregation bowing before the butterfly as well as the altar.

1: List, [1887/1888], GUW #13233.

2: Whistler to Knoedler's, 27 July 1888, GUW #13660.

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

4: New York 1898 (cat. no. 252).

5: Wedmore 1899 (cat. no. 249).

6: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 352).


A view across chairs in a church, looking across the body of the church to a balcony supported by pillars, over two shadowed chapels. On a wall at far right there is a large circular window. At upper left is a decorative scrolled metal chandelier. A man is standing in the chapel at the right. To left, on the broad rectangular column supporting the vault, is a small box. In the centre is a figure wearing a hat or turban, standing with bowed head. To left, half a dozen figures stand, leaning forward and looking to left, where, to left of the pillar, a butterfly radiates rays of light.


The interior of the gothic Church of St. Nicholas (Église St-Nicolas) in Brussels, facing west.
Comparative image
Photograph © G. Petri, Whistler Etchings Project.


In his memoirs, Walter Shaw Sparrow (1862-1940) remembered how he, as a young man, studied at the Académie des Beaux Arts in Brussels, where he met the Belgian Symbolist painter Fernand Edmond Jean Marie Khnopff (1859-1921). Khnopff told him a story about Whistler's visit to Brussels:
'On a Sunday they went into the city together. Whistler's little feet were in patent leather shoes, which were delicately made with pointed toes. There was a delicate cane in one hand, and in the other a dainty pair of gloves in a Whistlerian tint. A heavy shower of rain came on and Whistler began to walk on tiptoe. They entered a church when Mass was being celebrated. Whistler taking from his pocket a small sketch-book, filled a leaf with light impressive lines: then he turned to Khnopff and said: "There's no room for my butterfly". A little later, at the elevation of the Host, he turned again to Khnopff: "Yes, there is room for my butterfly," he whispered, and made a few touches with his pencil. When Khnopff told me this amazing story, a few days after, his face was indescribably pained and perplexed.' 7

7: Sparrow 1925, pp. 158-159.

There is a strong element of irreverent humour in Whistler's treatment of the subject and the title, with the congregation genuflecting to the butterfly, which radiates light upon their bowed heads.