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Old Putney Bridge

Impression: Colby College Museum of Art, Maine
Colby College Museum of Art, Maine
Number: 185
Date: 1879
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 200 x 298 mm
Signed: butterfly at bottom (1-5); shaded (6-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: Fine Art Society, 1879
No. of States: 7
Known impressions: 47
Catalogues: K.178; M.175; W.145
Impressions taken from this plate  (47)


The original composition was etched, but Whistler used drypoint lines and shading for foliage, reflections, water and clouds, and to augment shadows. The print-run was, for Whistler, extremely large and some of the new states reflect a need to restore the fading drypoint. However, in the published edition, the later impressions were increasingly faint.


Writing on 24 March 1879 to James Thomas Knowles (1831-1908), regarding either Old Battersea Bridge or Old Putney Bridge, Whistler said:
'The etching was a great success - I hope you will like it for I look upon it as my finest - and pick you out and send herewith a beauty - printed by myself - / Look at the grand old piece of Dutch paper! isn't it a famous proof! - '. 12
Whistler did indeed print Old Putney Bridge on specially selected paper. This is confirmed by a letter written to the Fine Art Society from Venice in January 1880: 'you might well send me some pieces of old Dutch paper ... perhaps Goulding may have some ... Try and get me some of the tone and size of that on which the Putney Bridge was printed - '. 13

13: Whistler to E. G. Brown, [26/29 January 1880], GUW #03600.

Impressions of the first five states of Old Putney Bridge were printed in black ink on laid paper with the Pro Patria watermark (, , , possibly , , and ).

Most impressions were printed in 1881, 1885 and 1887 for the Fine Art Society. On 8 April 1881 the F.A.S. received 21 impressions; in July 1885, twelve more; on 25 June 1887, a further six. 14

Of some twenty known impressions of the final state, most of which date from 1885/1889, several are in dark brown ink on laid paper (, , ) including one with what may be a Strasbourg Lily watermark ( ) and another watermarked 'D & C BLAUW' (). One is on Japanese paper (). Some show that the plate was becoming worn, with the drypoint butterfly and the trees becoming increasingly pale (, , , ).

The etching was signed with a butterfly on the plate when it was first etched, and Whistler sometimes added a pencil butterfly in the margin as well, which, up to 1881, consisted of a butterfly with 'veins' on its wings.

14: E. G. Brown to Whistler, 8 April 1881, GUW #01133, Whistler to F.A.S., 20 and 29 July 1885, #12994, Whistler to F.A.S., 25 June 1887, #12997.

Many impressions of the final state (which were mostly delivered between 1885 and 1887) are trimmed to the platemark with a tab for the butterfly signature and 'imp' to show that Whistler had printed them (, , , , ). This was Whistler's usual practise when printing the Venice plates, and though no precise date is known for the start of this practice, it dates from around 1881 on.
The edition was completed in 1889. It is likely that some impressions of the final state were not printed by Whistler. Several impressions were not trimmed to the platemark nor signed by the artist (, , , , ) It is likely that these were printed by Frederick Goulding (1842-1909) to complete the edition, and indeed one is signed 'F.G. imp' ().
As late as 1 April 1889 Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915) was begging for further prints and it was apparently then, actually on 15 April 1889, that the edition was completed and the plate destroyed and sent to the F.A.S. 15

15: Brown to Whistler, GUW #01211, F.A.S. to Whistler, #01219.

The cancelled plate was printed with considerable care by Whistler. The artist kept two cancelled impressions, one in black and one in brown ink on laid paper; another, in dark brown ink on cream Japanese paper, went to John Henry Wrenn (1841-1911); all were trimmed to the platemark and signed on the tab (, , ).