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The Two Ships

Impression: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
(1943.3.8481)
Number: 143
Date: 1875
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 207 x 133 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: Fine Art Society
No. of States: 5
Known impressions: 17
Catalogues: K.148; M.146; W.116
Impressions taken from this plate  (17)

PUBLICATION

In 1880, The Two Ships and Tatting 130 were published. The brochure reads:
'MESSRS. / DOWDESWELL & DOWDESWELLS / HAVE THE PLEASURE TO ANNOUNCE THE PUBLICATION / OF TWO NEW ETCHINGS BY / JAMES ABBOT McNEIL WHISTLER. / THE TWO SHIPS. 30 PROOFS, NUMBERED 3 3 0 / PLATE DESTROYED. / TATTING. 25 PROOFS, NUMBERED . . . []1 1 0 / PLATE DESTROYED. / (A COMPANION TO THE MUFF, BY THE SAME ARTIST.)' 13
At this date, Whistler was in Venice working on a commission to produce a set of etchings for the Fine Art Society. Dowdeswell's statement that the plates were 'new' caused dismay, as Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915) of the F.A.S. pointed out bitterly:
'I have persuaded a great many people to put off buying etchings until they had seen yours and they are growing tired of waiting. And the worst of it is I have heard today that Dowdeswell has announced two new plates by you[.] Of course I know they cannot really be new but the public will not know this and it puts us in an awkward position. Where did they get them from?' 14
Brown's boss, Marcus Bourne Huish (1843-1904), also wrote to Venice, sending Whistler a cheque:
'So I hope that now we've met all your wants you will hurry back with all your trophies which I'm very glad to hear of - for every one is getting very impatient & less scrupulous people are taking advantage of the stir that has been made of your being in Venice - for instance our late salesman Dowdeswell has got from Howell two old plates of yours & he is actually saying that he's just received them from Venice from you -'. 15
It is not known if Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), had acquired the copper plates, but he could have done so at Whistler's bankruptcy sale in 1879, or earlier, when he was helping Whistler to print etchings in the late 1870s.

EXHIBITIONS

The Two Ships was first shown as 'Die beiden Schiffe' in an exhibition of contemporary French and English (!) painters and etchers in Berlin in 1881, and, as 'St. Catherine Docks' and lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), in the Union League Club in New York in 1881 (). 16 It was exhibited at H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898, and sold to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) (). Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) lent one to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (). 17

Two impressions were shown by H. Wunderlich & Co. in 1903, catalogued as an 'Early proof' and 'The plate finished', one by Obach & Co. in London in 1903 and another by F. Keppel & Co. in New York in 1904. 18 After Whistler's death, impressions were shown at the Grolier Club, New York in 1904. 19

In 1905, Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) lent a richly inked impression in black ink on Japanese paper to the Whistler Memorial show in London (). 20

16: Berlin 1881 (cat. no. 713); New York 1881 (cat.no. 135).

17: New York 1898 (cat. no. 100);Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 104).

18: New York 1903b (cat. nos. 86a, b); see REFERENCES : EXHIBITIONS.

19: New York 1904a (cat. nos. 117 a,b).

20: London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 16).

SALES & COLLECTORS

In 1881 an impression was for sale by the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for 3.3.0. 21 One impression, undoubtedly part of the 1880 edition, was exhibited in Berlin in 1881, and sold by Messrs Dowdewell's associate, Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892), to the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, as part of a group of 301 prints for a total of 685.7.3 in 1882 (). 22

21: Robert Dunthorne at the Cabinet of Fine Arts, Vigo Street, 1881, p.23.

22: Inventory book, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, 1882.

Prices were fairly low. An impression from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891), was bought in 1892 by the print dealers, Deprez & Gutekunst for 1.1.0. and one from the collection of Mrs Edward Fisher (d. 1897) was bought by Parsons for 0.10.0 in 1897. 23 In these sales the state was not specified; however, a 'second' state sold in 1891 for 0.17.0. 24

23: Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 161); Christie's, 13-14 July 1897 (lot 295).

24: Christie's, 21 July 1891 (lot 134).

Early collectors included Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934), who owned two impressions, one later owned by Harris G. Whittemore (d. ca 1937) and Albert Henry Wiggin (1868-1951) () and the other by Messrs Dowdeswell and Charles Deering (1852-1927) (); the first went to Boston Public Library and the second to the Art Institute of Chicago. Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) left one to New York Public Library (). Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) owned a first state that was sold through A.A. Hahlo & Co. to Harris G. Whittemore (d. ca 1937), and given by Bryant W. Landston to Philadelphia Museum of Art (). Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought one, originally from the collection of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), through H. Wunderlich & Co. in 1898 () and another from F. Keppel & Co. in 1901 () and bequeathed them to the Freer Gallery of Art.