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A Lady at a Window

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 148
Date: 1875/1877
Medium: drypoint
Size: 235 x 160 mm
Signed: butterfly at right (3-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 19
Catalogues: K.138; M.135
Impressions taken from this plate  (19)


full-length, interior, portrait, reading, window, woman standing.


Whistler's original title is not known. Minor variations on the title are as follows:

'A Lady at a Window' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 1
'Lady at Window' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 2
'Lady at a Window' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 3

The title 'A Lady at a Window', originating with Wedmore, is the generally accepted title.

1: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 111).

2: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

3: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 135).


A woman wearing a hat stands facing slightly to the right, leaning against a cabinet or table and looking at a sheet of paper. There is a window to left of the cabinet. Above her is a sloping beam or the corner of the room. Her fair hair is pulled back, except for a short fringe, under a dark hat with broad, slightly curled brim. She wears a dark, very slim fitting skirt, and a jacket with narrow sleeves with quite large puffs on the upper arm, over a dark, high necked blouse or scarf. There appears to be the start of another sketch underneath, visible mostly to right of her feet.
For later changes, including the introduction of a printing press at right, see STATES.


The sitter is not known, but could be Alice Fay Greaves (b. 1852), Maud Franklin (1857- ca 1941) or the artist Rosa Frances Corder (1853-1893), who was posing for Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder y203 around 1876-1878. Whistler's portrait of Rosa Corder was engraved in mezzotint by Richard Josey (1840-1906) in 1880, and is reproduced below.
Etching: c_K138_01
Richard Josey, mezzotint after Whistler's Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder y203, 1880.
Whistler Collection, Special Collections, Glasgow University Library.
In 1877 Whistler was encouraged by Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), with the help of Rosa Corder, to print from his old etching plates. He told the story years later to the Pennells:
'Howell said: "Why, you have etched many plates, haven't you? You must get them out, you must print them, you must let me see them - there's gold waiting. And you have a press!" And so I had, in a room upstairs, only it was rusty, it hadn't been used for so long. But Howell wouldn't listen to an objection. He said he would fix the press, he would pull it. ... And the next morning, there we all were, Miss Rosa Corder too, and Howell was pulling at the wheel, and there were basins of water, and paper being damped, and prints being dried, and then Howell was grinding more ink, and, with the plates under my fingers, I felt all the old love of it come back.' 4
This may confirm the identity of the woman as Rosa Corder. It may be that she is supposedly looking at a proof - possibly an impression of this portrait of herself. A rough sketch of a small printing press appears in the third state of the drypoint, to right of the woman, as seen below:
Etching: K1380302
This is the only image by Whistler of a printing press.


The composition may well have been influenced by an etching and drypoint Portrait of Jan Six, by Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn (1617-1681). 5 It shows the young man reading a paper, and leaning against a window-sill. He stands facing left where Whistler's lady faces right, and the interior is considerably darker than Whistler's. 6

Lochnan suggests that Whistler was making repeated but not very satisfactory attempts 'to translate into etching the two-dimensional figure type found in Japanese prints' and cites this drypoint as one of the more successful attempts. 7

5: Hind, A.M., A Catalogue of Rembrandt's Etchings ..., London, 1923 (cat. no. 228); White, C., Boon, K.G., Rembrandt's Etchings: An Illustrated Critical Catalogue, Amsterdam, 1969 (cat. no. 285; e.g.British Museum 1868,0822.699 at

6: Our thanks to Martin Hopkinson for this useful suggestion.

7: Lochnan 1984[more], p. 165.