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The Forge

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 86
Date: 1861
Medium: drypoint
Size: 197 x 319 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at lower right
Inscribed: '1861' at lower right
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 95
Catalogues: K.68; M.68; T.57; W.63
Impressions taken from this plate  (95)


It was published in the fourth state as 'The Forge' in A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on The Thames and other Subjects (the 'Thames Set') by Messrs Ellis & Green in 1871.
This was one of two non-London drypoints in the set (with J. Becquet, Sculptor 062), and was presumably included to add variety. It was the only one in the set to be printed entirely by Whistler, demonstrating his skills as a printer.
A reviewer of the set described it as: 'No 3 'The Forge', a fine example of power subordinated to skill and learning.' 15

15: [F.G. Stephens], The Athenaeum, 26 August 1871, pp. 280-81.


It was exhibited first at the Royal Academy, London, in 1863 as 'The Forge', and, according to the Pennells, it was badly hung, 'reproductive work being then, as now, preferred to original etching'. 16 An impression was shown by Whistler in his first one-man show in London in 1874. The Builder commented:

16: London RA 1863 (cat. no. 972) Pennell 1908[more], I, p. 101.

'Our own opinion is that Providence intended Mr. Whistler for an etcher; at least it is in this peculiarly artist's art that his success is most incontestable. ... it is remarkable to see what freedom and effect the artist has attained, even in subjects of some intricacy, with that stiff and stubborn method of execution - the "drypoint." Look at "The Forge," and see how thoroughly and intensely the expressions of the men working in the heat of the open furnace-door, and the youths craning their necks behind to look in, are given.' 17
It was also exhibited in the same year in a travelling exhibition of the collection of James Anderson Rose (1819-1890). 18 Philip Henry Rathbone (1828-1895) reviewed the 'Etching exhibition at the Liverpool Art Club', commenting, like the critic of The Builder, on the medium of drypoint:

18: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 521).

'the use of ''dry point'' ought not to be encouraged, because the incisions made by the etching needle are so delicate and shallow that after a few impressions the plate becomes worse than valueless, giving a totally wrong idea of the artist's scope and intention. Any one who has compared a fine impression of Mr Whistler's Forge, like that of Mr Rose ... with the ordinary published impressions, will at once see what we mean.' 19
Likewise, The Forge was being shown in America: Joseph Longworth, lent one to the international exhibition in Cincinnati in 1872 and Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) lent a 'Fine proof' to the Union League Club in New York in 1881 (). 20 Other major American exhibitions included the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) lent an impression to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 ( or ). 21

It was also included in print dealer's exhibitions such as those of Craibe Angus in Glasgow (1879). Impressions were shown by Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) of F. Keppel & Co. in 1902, and H. Wunderlich & Co. in 1898 and 1903, in New York. Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) purchased a print from the 1898 show (). 22

20: New York 1881 (cat. no. 89); Cincinnati 1872 (cat. no. 202). See REFERENCES : EXHIBITIONS.

21: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 58).

22: New York 1898 (cat. no. 60).

After Whistler's death, impressions were shown in the principal Memorial Exhibitions including the Grolier Club, New York, and the Copley Society, Boston, in 1904; and the London Memorial exhibition in 1905. 23

23: New York 1904a (cat. no. 67); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 56); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 63).


On 17 October 1863, Whistler sold an impression of what he called the '2nd state' - actually the fourth state - to the British Museum for £1.1.0 (). 24 The Museum bought another - a lightly inked impression - in 1874 (). The Victoria & Albert Museum bought a full 'Thames Set' from Ellis & Green in 1871 for £12.12.0 including this drypoint (), and Constantine Alexander Ionides (1833-1900) bequeathed an impression to the Museum in 1901 ().

In a revealing letter to Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), in July 1873, Whistler boasted of prices received for his prints at auction. An 'early proof on Japanese paper'; from the collection of Arthur Thomas (dates unknown), was sold at Sotheby's on 23 June 1873 and bought for the comparatively high price of £3.10.0 by Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876). Whistler then wrote to Avery - who had bought or was about to buy two impressions (, ) :

24: GUW #11109.

'All were bought by Colnaghi, for selling again of course - except the Forge, which was bought by Ralph Thomas - So you see even at an auction the prices these proofs fetch and you cannot expect me to let you have them at lower rates - Besides of course you can ask them as well in America as in London - ' 25
James Anderson Rose (1819-1890) exhibited an impression in a travelling show in 1874 and then sold it at Sotheby's in a three-day sale from 27 June 1876 (lot 736). It was the highest priced print in the sale, being bought by the print-dealer Hogarth for £11.11.0. At that time, according to Rose, only five or six impressions had been taken from the plate. This was incorrect, since it had been published with the 'Thames Set', but it might have influenced the price.
Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), who was helping to print and sell the etchings in the years preceding Whistler's bankruptcy, bought an impression of the Forge (either this etching or The Little Forge, Liverpool 141) direct from the artist in 1877 for £3.3.0. 26 This was a good price - at auction in that year it fetched only £0.19.0 (Sotheby's, 12 June 1877, bought by the print dealers, J. Hogarth & Sons). Wedmore commented dismissively:

26: C. A. Howell to Whistler, 6-15 November 1877, GUW #02178; Whistler to Howell, 9-11 November [1877], #12738.

'The effect aimed at in this audacious dry-point is attained only in about half a dozen early impressions ... Mr Avery has one; another, which was perhaps not wrongly described as 'the finest taken,' was bought at Mr Anderson Rose's Sale for 11£. 11s. by Hogarth; and another at Sir William Drake's Sale for about £19. The later impressions have, I hope, no money value.' 27
At Whistler's bankruptcy sale, at Sotheby's on 12 February 1880 (by which time Whistler was in Venice) three prints including The Forge were sold for a reasonable price, £6.16.8. Thomas Way reported to Whistler, who was in Venice: 'The sale is over & I think most satisfactorily - Your works have sold very well - The Etchings of The Forge - Speke & Battersea fetched - Twenty pounds ten shillings'. 28 The sale included The Forge, Battersea Reach 096 and either Speke Hall: The Avenue 101 or Speke Shore 139, which were bought by 'Howe', who was probably Charles Augustus ('Owl') Howell, for £20.10.0. 29

28: Whistler to T. Way, 12 February 1880, GUW #06080.

29: Sotheby's, 12 February 1880, annotated sale catalogue, GUL SC 1880.1.

It is true that both quality and provenance enhanced prices, and, for instance, at the sale of the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) at Sotheby's on 3 March 1892 (lot 113), one 'early proof, full of burr' fetched £2.8.0, bought by Thomas Way (1837-1915) (, later sold to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919)), while Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851), London print dealer, bought another (lot 114) for £6.10.0. Rarity was even more appealing, and 'one of the first impressions' was sold from the collection of William Richard Drake (1817-1890) in 1892 for the princely sum of £19.9.0. 30

30: Christie's, 8-9 March 1892 (lot 329).

Whistler certainly thought the drypoint valuable, partly because of what he called its 'rarity' or because he had hardly any 'proofs', since they had all been sold with the 'Thames Set' by art dealers and publishers. He even asked Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) to try and find out its monetary value:
'I wish you would find out - perhaps from Dunthorne or Dowdeswell - or better perhaps Browne (F A S) what a proof of the "Forge" - the large drypoint - ought to be worth - It is of course of the greatest rarity - and I could not easily find out for myself - Have they given thirty or forty [gns?] - Is it worth as much or more than the "Jo"? -' 31
Presumably a recent sale of Jo had reached a notably high price, but unfortunately this has not been identified.
Early European collectors - or Americans settled in Europe - included Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) (, , ); George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) (); Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), whose impression was sold through Wunderlich's to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1898 (); Atherton Curtis (1863-1944) (); James Smith (1831-1923), bequeathed to the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (); James Guthrie Orchar (1825-1888), bequeathed to the Orchar Art Gallery, and passed to the McManus Art Galleries, Dundee (); the Royal Collection (); Guido von Usedom (1805-1884) and thence to the Royal Library of Belgium. (); and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, bought from F. Keppel, in 1903 ().
American collectors included Joseph Longman, who gave one to Cincinnati Art Museum in 1883 (); Henry F. Sewall (1816-1896) () and Mr and Mrs Horatio Greenough Curtis (1844 - ca 1923) () whose impressions went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916), by 1900 (, ); Charles Deering (1852-1927) (); Albert Henry Wiggin (1868-1951) (); Henry Harper Benedict (1844-1935) (); Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), who apart from items mentioned above bought an impression from F. Keppel in 1894 () and a cancelled impression in 1896 (); Henry Walters (1841-1931) (); and Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) ().