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Sets and Series

The 'Brussels Set' or 'Belgian Set'

Etchings of Brussels

Whistler visited Ostend, Bruges and Brussels-the capital city of Belgium - many times, and exhibited works there. In mid- September 1887 Whistler travelled to Ostend and Brussels between about 14-18 September. The 'Brussels Set' was not published by a dealer. It was etched, printed and sold over a limited amount of time in fairly limited numbers, and includes groups of related subjects.
In Belgium Whistler made a large group of etchings, including several street scenes, such as Petite Rue au Beurre, Brussels [341], Petite Rue des Bouchers [342], Archway, Brussels [344], Children's Fruit Barrow [347], The Barrow - Quartier des Marolles, Brussels [346]. He also etched more elaborate, larger scale subjects around the main square, including House of the Swan, Brussels [337], The Courtyard, Brussels [345], High Street, Brussels [343], Palaces, Brussels [338], Gold House, Brussels [336], Flower Market, Brussels [339], and Grand'Place, Brussels [335]. Finally there was one interior, The Church - Brussels (Adoration) [340].
Impression: K3550102
The Courtyard, Brussels [345]
Impression: K3560002
The Church - Brussels (Adoration) [340]
Impression: K3570202
The Barrow - Quartier des Marolles, Brussels [346]
Impression: K3580103
High Street, Brussels [343]
Impression: K3590103
Flower Market, Brussels [339]
Impression: K3600102
Gold House, Brussels [336]
Impression: K3610104
Palaces, Brussels [338]
Impression: K3620104
Grand'Place, Brussels [335]
Impression: K3630102
House of the Swan, Brussels [337]
Impression: K3640102
Petite Rue au Beurre, Brussels [341]
Impression: K3650102
Children's Fruit Barrow [347]
Impression: K3660102
Archway, Brussels [344]
Impression: K3670102
Petite Rue des Bouchers [342]


Whistler's set of etchings focusses on the Grand'Place, the central square in Brussels, with delicate, detailed and decorative images of the façades of the magnificent buildings there, including the 'House of the Swan', reproduced below.
[comparative image]
The 'House of the 'Swan', Brussels.
Impression: K3630102
House of the Swan, Brussels [337]


Whistler wrote to Thomas Waldo Story (1854-1915), sculptor:

'Where am I now? - well of all places - in Brussels! - I wish enough you were here with me - The place is simply lovely - and I only wonder how it is that I should never have discovered it before! -

But the droll thing is that the people themselves - the painter fellows and the rest of them have no idea of it themselves - and I will have to invent their town for them as I did the Thames for the Londoners! -

The work that I am doing is, I believe, far away beyond all that I have done before - and I shall be awfully disappointed if you dont think that what I am about is not even newer, and more amazing than the Naval Review - '
By November Whistler, back in London, was printing and selling the etchings. For instance, on 17 November 1887 he sold 'Barrow', 'Flower Market' and House of the Swan' for £10.10.0, and 'High Street Brussels' (three for £25.4.0) to Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832). 2

2: GUW #13016.

By December 1887 one was on exhibition at the Royal Society of British Artists, and in April of the following year, at the New English Art Club. A London newspaper commented:
'Mr Whistler's latest studies with the etching needle divide themselves as to theme into four classes, one of them dealing with a pilastered house in Brussels, another with what Mr Whistler saw when he was a privileged spectator of her Majesty's fleet, a fourth with the arena of Buffalo Bill. Of all of these things there are vivacious and dexterous jottings.' 3

3: '"Black and White" Exhibition', Standard, London, 25 December 1887 (GUL PC9/47).



  • Winter Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1887-1888.
  • [Exhibition], Société des XX (Vingts), Brussels, 1888.
  • [Exhibition], New English Art Club, London, 1888.
  • Etchings and Dry-Points by James McNeill Whistler, The Grolier Club, New York, 1904.
  • Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905.


Cuttings in Whistler's press-cutting books, Special Collections, Glasgow University Library (GUL PC9 and 10).
  • Anon., '"Black and White" Exhibition', Standard, London, 25 December 1887 (GUL PC9/47)
  • Anon., Sunday Times, 13 January 1888 (GUL PC9/54).
  • Anon., Home and Colonial Mail, 20 January 1888 (GUL PC9/55).
  • Anon, 'New English Art Club', The Echo, London, [April 1888] (GUL PC9/77).
  • Anon, [The New English Art Club], Pall Mall Gazette, [April 1888] (GUL PC9/77)
  • Anon, [The New English Art Club], Evening Post, London, 4 April 1888. (GUL PC9/77)
  • Anon., Yorkshire Post, [April 1888] (GUL PC9/79).
  • Anon., Scotsman, 7 April 1888 (GUL PC9/80).
  • Anon, [New English Art Club], Globe, London, 9 April 1888 (GUL PC9/79).
  • Anon, 'Two picture exhibitions', Manchester Guardian, 9 April 1888, p. 5 (GUL PC9/74).
  • Anon, Nottinghamshire Daily Guardian, 10 April 1888.
  • Anon, 'At the Dudley Gallery', Literary World, 13 April 1888.
  • Anon, 'New English Art Club', News of the World, 15 April 1888 (GUL PC9/80).
  • Anon., Artist, May 1888 (GUL PC9/97).
  • Anon., 'More Pictures Yet,' Toronto Daily Mail, 31 May 1888 (GUL PC10/1).
  • Anon., 'A Whistler Show,' The Star, London, 21 April 1889 (GUL PC10/92).
  • Manchester Examiner, 2 May 1889 (GUL PC10/92).
  • Anon., 'The College for Men and Women,' The Times, London, 2 May 1889 (GUL PC10/91).
  • Anon., 'A Whistler Exhibition,' Pall Mall Gazette, 11 May 1889 (GUL PC10/92).
  • Anon, 'International Art at Knightsbridge', Glasgow Evening News, 22 May 1899 (GUL PC17/58).
  • Anon, St Paul's, London, 27 May 1899 (GUL PC17/61).


  • Kennedy, Edward G., The Etched Work of Whistler, New York, 1910 (cat. nos. 355-367).
  • Lochnan, Katharine A., The Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1984, chap. 4.
  • Mansfield, Howard, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etchings and Dry-Points of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Chicago, 1909 (cat. nos. 352-364).
  • Mansfield, Howard, Whistler in Belgium and Holland, New York, 1935.
  • Mansfield, Howard, 'Whistler in Belgium and Holland,' The Print-Collector's Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 4, December 1916, pp. 374-395.
  • Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908.