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The Little Wheelwright's

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 261
Date: 1886
Medium: etching
Size: 66 x 98 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 13
Catalogues: K.245; M.242
Impressions taken from this plate  (13)


The surface of the copper plate is extensively pitted, which may have been accidental or manipulated foul biting or open bite. This gives texture and substance to the row of houses, but it spreads into the sky and water suggesting clouds of midges. Perhaps the artist as well as the plate was over-bitten.


Of the known impressions only one appears to be signed with a butterfly on the tab, and although it is similar to Whistler's signature, it appears slightly squashed and is not followed by the 'imp.' that was usual and would have indicated that he printed it. It is in brown ink on cream wove paper, with light tone (Graphic with a link to impression #K2450115).
Roughly half of the extant impressions are in black ink and half in brown. Examples in black ink include one on thin 'antique' (pre-1800) laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K2450112) and one on ivory laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K2450105); and in brown ink, one on ivory 'modern' laid paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K2450104) and another on ivory laid paper with a partial watermark, possibly a Strasbourg Lily (Graphic with a link to impression #K2450103). Most impressions were not trimmed to the platemark.
One impression in black ink on cream laid paper has wide margins and appears to have been printed under great pressure (Graphic with a link to impression #K2450111); it is very similar in paper and printing to impressions of two other Dordrecht subjects (Graphic with a link to impression #K2440110, Graphic with a link to impression #K2440108) in the same collection, the Library of Congress. This suggests that these impressions were printed at the same time, probably posthumously.
There are clues as to who might have acquired the plate and printed it either during Whistler's life or shortly afterwards. One impression printed in black ink on cream laid paper watermarked with a hunting horn and shield (Graphic with a link to impression #K2450102) bears an inscription by Mortimer Luddington Menpes (1860-1938): 'Whistler printed by Mortimer Menpes'. Another is said to have been owned at one time by Menpes (Graphic with a link to impression #K2450105). Menpes printed plates under Whistler's tutelage from 1881 on, and had a large collection of Whistler's etchings and several copper plates, including The Menpes Children [300], which he printed for publication in his memoirs of Whistler, in 1904. 6 Furthermore, in a draft catalogue of Whistler's etchings, Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) wrote 'Mr Menpes owns this plate.' 7 He was definitely sufficiently experienced to print Whistler's plates.

6: Menpes 1904 A , frontispiece.

7: J. Pennell, n.d., draft catalogue (cat. no. 246), Library of Congress, Pennell Collection, Box. 353.