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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)


This elegant composition was carefully constructed, developed in both etching and drypoint through eight states.


Some fifty impressions of The Little Mast have been located. The first state was printed in black ink on ivory laid paper with a foolscap watermark and was marked 'Very early proof - ' (). Second states were printed in black ink, on a variety of papers, including cream Asian wove (), and a lustrous wove paper, possibly imitating Japanese paper (, ) followed by third states, also in black ink, on similar lustrous simile-Japan wove paper (, ); thick cream wove (); and ivory laid western paper with a 'PRO PATRIA' watermark (). Papers used for the fourth state included ivory laid with a hunting horn watermark () and cream medium-weight 'antique' (pre-1800) paper ().
Impressions in dark brown ink are less common, but are also on various papers. Brown ink characterises impressions of the sixth to eighth states, printed on, for instance, Asian laid paper (); thin buff western paper imitating Asian paper (); ivory laid paper (, ); and an off-white, almost greenish laid paper ().
In some impressions of the final state Whistler reverted to black ink, one, for instance, on ivory laid paper with a partial watermark, possibly the Strasbourg Lily (). A cancelled impression was printed in dark brown ink on ivory laid paper with 'HARRIS & McMURDO' watermark ().
Early impressions of the second () and third (, , ) state were not trimmed, but signed in the margin with a large veined butterfly and 'imp.' to show that Whistler had printed them. However sometimes impressions of the third (, , , ) and fourth (, , ) state were trimmed later, not necessarily by Whistler, leaving the butterfly on a tab. Most late impressions were trimmed to the platemark and signed on a tab, and the very last impressions (or impressions trimmed and sold later), on a very tiny tab (, ).
Letters, lists, invoices and receipts document Whistler's edition of the twelve etchings of the 'First Venice Set' for the Fine Art Society. He delivered ten impressions of The Little Mast on 16 February, twelve on 6 April and seven on 25 August 1881; none in 1882; two on 16 July and one on 8 August 1883; two on 6 March 1884; none in 1885. 8 It would have been mainly impressions of the second, third and fourth states that were printed and delivered in 1881.

By this time Whistler was busy printing the 'Second Venice Set' for Messrs Dowdeswell. On 18 November 1886 Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915) prodded Whistler gently, reminding him of his obligations to the F.A.S. by asking for nine more impressions. 9 It was 13 January 1887 before the F.A.S. received them. Whistler went on to deliver another eleven impressions of The Little Mast on 25 June 1887, and two on 2 April 1889, and finally another three making up the total of 50. 10 These late deliveries were probably mostly of the sixth to final states.

8: F.A.S. to Whistler, 20 December 1888, GUW #01217.

9: GUW #01181.

10: GUW #01217.