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The Little Mast

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 196
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 269 x 189 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 8
Known impressions: 50
Catalogues: K.185; M.182; W.151
Impressions taken from this plate  (50)


The Little Mast was published in Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings (the 'First Venice Set') by the Fine Art Society, London, in 1880. It replaced The Bridge, Santa Marta 201, which was originally listed in the 1880 catalogue. 11

11: London FAS 1880; copy in GUL PC15/7.

In January 1883 the F.A.S. paid Whistler £105.0.0 for the 339 impressions delivered by then (1881-82). In the first half of 1883 Whistler printed 60 impressions of the 'First Venice Set' and other Venice plates at £5.5.0 per dozen. The F.A.S. paid on 9 August 1883. 12

12: GUW #01153; #01185.


Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) lent an early impression to the Union League Club show in New York in 1881 (). 13 In the same year, another early impression was shown in Berlin and bought by the Kupferstichkabinett ().

The Little Mast was not included in the original 1880 catalogue for the show at the Fine Art Society in London, although there is a copy of the catalogue with the title added in ink, replacing 'The Bridge'. However, it was The Bridge that appeared in the show 14 , and The Little Mast that was published in the 'First Venice Set'.

13: New York 1881 (cat. no. 156); see REFERENCES : EXHIBITIONS.

14: London FAS 1880; copy in GUL PC15/7.

Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) was somewhat dismissive of the etching, commenting: 'The Mast and the Little Mast are dependent for much of their interest, on the drawing of festoons of cord hanging from unequal heights.' Whistler quoted this excerpt in the catalogue for a second Venice etching exhibition in 1883, adding the marginal 'Reflection' :
'At the service of critics of unequal sizes.' 15

15: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 36).

When The Little Mast was exhibited in 1883 it was twinned in the catalogue with another succinct phrase from an earlier press-cutting: 'Form and line are of little account to him.' 16 Presumably by this Whistler wished to stress the importance of line and form in his work, but apparently art critics did not share his views on this, or they were flagging by the time they got to catalogue no. 46, and neglected to mention it at all.

16: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 46).

Impressions were also shown at later print dealer's shows, at H. Wunderlich & Co. in particular in 1883 and 1898 (probably ). 17 Others were on sale by Dunthorne in Liverpool in 1893, at Obach & Co. in London (1903) and F. Keppel & Co. in New York (1904). It also appeared in public exhibitions, in Philadelphia (1881) and Wolverhampton (1902). Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) lent a late impressions to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 () and James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901) to the International in Glasgow in 1901. 18

After Whistler's death, impressions were shown at the Whistler Memorial Exhibitions, at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904; in London, lent from the Royal Collection in 1905 (); in Paris, also in 1905; and finally lent by Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) in Rotterdam in 1906 ( or ). 19

17: New York 1898 (cat. no.130).

18: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 132); Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 229).

19: New York 1904a (cat. no. 152); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 151);Rotterdam 1906 (cat. no. 62).


Most impressions were sold by the Fine Art Society, or by them through other dealers.
Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) owned an early impression by 1881 (). In 1882 an impression was sold by Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) to the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin (). 20 Woldemar von Seidlitz (1850-1922), Dresden, acquired what was described by Whistler as a 'very early proof', and gave it to the Kupferstich-Kabinett Dresden (). Another proof - which was described by Whistler as the 'only proof' - was sold by the artist on 28 April 1887 to Messrs Dowdeswell, London art dealers, for £5.5.0. 21

20: Inventory books, Kupferstichkabinett Berlin.

21: GUW #13020.

Hans Velten (1857?-1930) owned an impression signed in the 1890s; he bequeathed it to the British Museum (). Another early collector was Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891). After his death, an impression from his collection was auctioned at Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 236) and bought by the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for only £1.8.0. By contrast, Whistler sold an impression on 24 December 1902 to Dunthorne for £12.12.0. 22

22: GUW #13040.

One impression went to the Royal Collection and was sold in 1905 through Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, and Obach & Co., London ().

US collectors included Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), who bought a set from Wunderlich's in 1890 (); Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), who bought one impression from Wunderlich's in 1898 () and two from Keppel, one in 1894 () and another, earlier impression, in 1902 (); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916), who bought one, possibly from Wunderlich's (stock no. a 10248), before 1900 (); Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (); Thomas Jefferson Coolidge jr (1863-1912) (); Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919) (); and Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) ().