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Old Battersea Bridge

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 188
Date: 1879
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 202 x 293 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right (2-6); replaced with new butterfly (6); replaced again (7)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: Fine Art Society, 1879
No. of States: 7
Known impressions: 40
Catalogues: K.177; M.174; W.141
Impressions taken from this plate  (40)


The original etching was touched with a few delicate drypoint additions (clouds and sky mostly), which faded during printing. The etching was printed with light, carefully wiped tone on many impressions.


A unique record was kept of the creation of this etching by Whistler. He printed a 'Trial rub' on 3 August 1879, which is the first state (). He then went on to print the next four states (counting the second state as 'first' in his records), as follows:
'Old Battersea Bridge
Aug. 3d 1879 Pulled the first fourteen proofs.
So far there are four states - first without Butterfly - one proof only - Second with Butterfly - one proof only - third - drypoint in background & subsequently in Bridge itself - fourth evening clouds in sky - There are eleven proofs of the third state /
Aug 6th Sold the Plate of Battersea Bridge to Huish for one hundred pounds keeping a proof of each state of the of the plate as agreed - Took four proofs to Huish - /
Aug 14th Sent eight more proofs to Huish' (that is, Marcus Bourne Huish (1843-1904)). 17
In a separate note Whistler also recorded printing two 'Battersea Bridges' on 14 August 1879. 18

18: GUW #13019.

It is not easy to identify Whistler's states from his records and annotations. The unique impression of the second state was printed on ivory laid paper and inscribed by the artist, '1st state only proof' (). This impression was sold in the 1880s, trimmed by Whistler, and with the butterfly and 'imp' written on a tab at the bottom edge (). This form of signing etchings was Whistler's usual practise from about 1880 onwards.
Similarly the third state, printed on cream Japanese paper, was inscribed '2nd State only proof.' (). It is a good impression printed with some retroussage, which gives a strong but slightly blurred effect to the image, and it has a light glossy surface tone. It was slightly unusual for Whistler to print proofs on japanese paper - he usually printed them on thicker western paper. However, in this case the proofs he retained 'as agreed' appear to have been fine and unusual impressions aimed to appeal to particular print dealers and collectors.
At this point Whistler's numbering breaks down completely, and a fine impression of the fourth state, printed on cream 'antique' (pre-1800) Pro Patria watermarked laid paper is inscribed '1st state - 2nd proof -' ().
Whistler seems to have numbered some impressions, although some of his pencil notations may have been rubbed out, and others may have been trimmed off. Several impressions of the fourth and fifth states were inscribed by Whistler, after the butterfly and 'imp.', with coded notations:
'.x. 7' ();
'x. 10' ();
'.x. .x.14.' and 'cx. .x.' (, ).
It seems likely that the code relates to the number of impressions printed, perhaps on a particular day, or an edition printed over a short period, or the selection of etchings for a particular purchaser or exhibition.
These may all date from August 1879. Not only does the butterfly suggest a date of 1879 but on 13 August 1879 Whistler sent some proofs to the Fine Art Society with a note:
'I send herewith - 8 - more p[roofs] of the Old Battersea bridge - ... Mr Way ... saw the etching at my place the other day and said if you would send him proof marked "9." he would give you a cheque for same - ...' On the following day, Maud Franklin (1857- ca 1941), writing on Whistler's behalf, noted the delivery of the eight proofs. 19 'Mr Way' was Thomas Way (1837-1915).
Nearly fifty impressions of Old Battersea Bridge have been recorded, though not all have been located. Whistler was expected to print 25 for the Fine Art Society, and Frederick Goulding (1842-1909) was to print the remaining 25. 20 However, Whistler had not completed the edition before he left for Venice in September 1879. On his return from Venice he apparently started printing again, and sold 21 impressions to the F.A.S. on 8 April 1881. 21 This actually suggests that Whistler decided to print them all himself.

20: F.A.S. pamphlet, 1879, Glasgow University Library.

21: GUW #01102, #01133.

The published edition included impressions from the fourth and fifth states, the later fifth states being of somewhat poorer quality. It is not clear exactly when Whistler printed the later impressions.

The signature and trimming are not necessarily an indication of when the impression was printed. A range of papers and signatures appear on impressions of the fifth state - most of which date from 1879. One is signed in the margin with a butterfly and 'imp.' dating from the late 1880s but was not trimmed ().

Some impressions in dark brown ink with beautifully wiped surface tone are trimmed and signed with a butterfly of about 1886/1887 (, ). They do look more like the later impressions of Whistler's Venice etchings printed in and around 1886 than the original proofs of 1879. Impressions were printed in dark brown or warm black ink on laid paper, some with watermarks, such as 'EVH' (), Strasbourg Lily (), and Arms of Amsterdam ().
Whistler was still printing and selling impressions in 1887: an undated F.A.S. account includes three impressions for 6.6.0, and on 25 June 1887 he sold six to the F.A.S. 22

The final state bears an etched butterfly of about 1888 and was printed in dark brown ink with light surface tone ( and ). One impression of the final state was inscribed on the verso 'Specially chosen' (). On 1 April 1889 Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915) of the Fine Art Society wrote to Whistler: 'Just a line to remind you that we are very much in want of Putney Bridge, Battersea Bridge', and ten days later he recorded receipt of 21 impressions, printed at the rate of 5.5.0 per dozen; this appears to have completed their contract, and the copper plate was cancelled, and received by the Fine Art Society on 15 April 1889. 23

22: GUW #01216, #12997.

23: GUW #01211, #01214, #01219.