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The Little Lagoon

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 216
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 226 x 152 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 58
Catalogues: K.186; M.183; W.152
Impressions taken from this plate  (58)


The etched lines were, from the start, softened and shaded with fine drypoint, which was reinforced in the third and fourth states. Most impressions were printed with carefully wiped ink on the surface of the plate, adding colour, atmosphere and substance to the water that takes up two thirds of the composition.


Whistler printed over sixty impressions of The Little Lagoon for inclusion in the 'First Venice Set' for the Fine Art Society, plus proofs of new states.
Early impressions of The Little Lagoon up to and including the third state were usually not trimmed to the platemark, but have a margin, and are signed with a butterfly that has veins across the wings (i.e. , , ). Some of these early sheets were trimmed down at a later date, not necessarily by Whistler (, , , , ). All later impressions are trimmed to the platemark, leaving a tab for the butterfly and 'imp.' to show that Whistler had printed them ().
An impression of the first state was printed in black ink on cream laid paper with a small crown watermark, taken from a book, which has an old Latin inscription on the verso (). The second was printed in black ink on light buff Asian paper (). The third state was printed on a variety of papers: in warm black ink on ivory laid () and on ivory wove paper with a glossy surface simulating Japan (); and in black ink on ivory Japan (), 'antique' (pre-1800 laid (), cream Asian wove (), and ivory Asian laid paper ().
Some are in dark brown ink, also on different papers. Several third states are on watermarked laid papers (), including thin light-weight 'WW' paper (), one with a posthorn over '4/W' () and another marked 'NVD / DVN' () . Several fourth states are on laid paper including cream paper with water- or counter-marked initials (), possibly 'V' (). Others are on cream 'Japanned' paper (), one with the watermark of a Hunting Horn on a shield (); cream laid 'antique' paper with the watermark of a thistle and coat of arms (, ); buff 'antique' laid (), and cream Japanese laid paper ().
Letters, lists, invoices and receipts document Whistler's printing of the twelve etchings of the 'First Venice Set' for the Fine Art Society. He delivered thirteen impressions of The Little Lagoon on 16 February, seven on 6 April, eight on 25 August, and six on 31 December 1881; one on 9 April 1883; twelve on 20 July 1883; and three on 15 February 1884. 6

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

By this time Whistler was busy printing the 'Second Venice Set' for Messrs Dowdeswell. On 18 November 1886 Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915) reminded Whistler of his obligations to the F.A.S. by asking for nine more impressions. 7 However, it was 13 January 1887 before the F.A.S. received three more impressions of The Little Lagoon. Whistler went on to deliver another nine on 25 June 1887, and four on 11 April 1889, by which time he had delivered a grand total of 66. 8

7: GUW #01181.

8: GUW #01181, #01214, #01219.

On 15 April 1889 the Fine Art Society must have been immensely relieved as they acknowledged receipt of the destroyed plate and an impression from the cancelled plate. 9

9: 15 April 1889, 2 May 1889, GUW #01219 and #01221.