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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)


Thomas wrote 'The grand effect of this most magnificent drypoint can only be judged from the first proofs taken.' Wedmore concurred, 'The effect aimed at in this audacious dry-point is attained only in about half a dozen early impressions. They are generally charged heavily with burr. ' 13

13: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 63); Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 57).


There are close to a hundred impressions in public collections, about half being in the fourth state and at least 20 in the final (sixth) state. Whistler printed them in black ink, usually with a deliberate wiping of surface tone, so that the darker tone increased the contrast between light and dark areas of the composition.
Overall, impressions on Japanese paper predominate, as for example in early impressions of the second, third and fourth states (, , ). The fourth state was printed and sold over several years: one was sold by Whistler in 1863 (), another was sold in a 'Thames Set' by the publishers, Ellis & Green, in 1871 () and one was bought by the British Museum in 1874 ().

There is considerably variety in impressions of the fourth state, as published in the 'Thames Set'. Many were printed on laid paper with the 'DE ERVEN DE BLAUW' or 'DEDB' watermark (, , ), and a couple may even have come from the same batch of paper (, ). Other fourth states are on laid paper, but without watermarks (, ). However, a number were still on Japanese (, ) and ivory Asian laid papers (, , ).
As some drypoint faded, the variation between older and more recent additions became more apparent and the plate was sometimes inked more heavily to compensate, particularly in the shadowed area at left. This is seen in some impressions of the fifth () and final (sixth) state ().
E.G. Kennedy, writing in 1910, commented on this inking of the worn drypoint as a distinguishing feature of the final state, and noted that 'Impressions in this state are recent.' 14 This does not seem to be entirely accurate - they probably date from between 1894 and 1896. Many impressions in the final state were professionally printed for the then owners of the plate (F. Keppel & Co.) before 1896, when the plate was acquired by C.L. Freer. An impression of the sixth state was bought by C.L. Freer from F. Keppel & Co. in 1894 () and a cancelled impression two years later in 1896 (). This accounts for Whistler's butterfly signature being on an impression of the final state sold by H. Wunderlich' & Co. of New York ().

14: Kennedy 1910[more] (cat. no. 68).

Usually the drypoint was printed with a margin, and occasionally impressions were signed by Whistler at a later date with his butterfly at the request of dealers or collectors (for instance, ). Unfortunately Whistler was not the only person to add 'butterflies' to his etchings. Occasionally a perfectly good impression (such as ) was signed by someone else with a rather squashed version of the artist's monogram.