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The Palaces

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 223
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching, drypoint and open bite
Size: 252 x 358 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left (4-5); removed (6)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 56
Catalogues: K.187; M.184; W.153
Impressions taken from this plate  (56)


The Palaces was published in Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings (the 'First Venice Set') by the Fine Art Society, London, in 1880.


It was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London in 1880. 14 The Spectator thought it 'Probably the best of the series.' 15 However, the Daily News commented '"The Two Doorways" and "The Palaces" have also much power and originality; but, on the whole, we think that London fogs and the muddy old Thames supply Mr. Whistler's needle with subjects more congenial than do the Venetian palaces and lagoons.' The art critic asserted that London suited a black and white medium while Venice required colour. 16

The Globe was more complimentary: 'The more elaborate architectural features in "The Doorway," "The Palaces," and others of the same class, are admirably designed, not with laborious minuteness, but with a perfect understanding of their especial character. A principal merit of these works is their unity of effect'. 17 The Times commented in general terms:

14: London FAS 1880 (cat. no. 9).

15: Spectator, 11 Dec. 1880 (GUL PC4/13).

16: Daily News, 2 Dec. 1880 (GUL PC4/15).

17: The Globe, 3 Dec. 1880 (GUL PC4/15).

'The quality of these etchings, taken as a whole, which will most surprise the outside public, who are accustomed to think of Mr Whistler chiefly through the somewhat indefinite pictures in oil which he has exhibited of late years, will be the excessive skill of the drawing, even when it is most free. Look, for instance of this, ... at the drawing of the details of grated windows and shattered masonry which occur over and over again in this series.' 18
The critic of the British Architect looked closely at the actual technique employed, but misinterpreted Whistler's manipulation of foul biting to add texture to the wall and sky, assuming it was ink left on the plate, and an example of 'artistic printing':
'"The Palaces" contains more work [than "The Little Venice"] and is a more important plate altogether, but the shadow on part of the building is apparently done by hand in the printing, that is to say it is not in the etched lines of the plate, but is a more or less skilful manipulation of ink on the part of the printer before the plate is put in the press.' 19
The Palaces was shown again by the F.A.S. in 1883 and 1892. Whistler published three earlier reviews, including one by Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921), in the 1883 catalogue to complement this, the largest of his etchings: 20

20: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 48).

'"The absence, seemingly, of any power of drawing the forms of water."— F. Wedmore.
"He has never, so far as we know, attempted to transfer to copper any of the more ambitious works of the architect."—Pall Mall Gazette.
"He has been content to show us what his eyes can see, and not what his hand can do." St. James's Gazette.'
The latter is an excerpt from a much longer passage, which does not actually refer to this etching, but reads:
'In all his former etchings, whether of river-side wharves and barges, old timbered houses, or groups of ouvriers [workers], of Paris and London, he was careful to give a strong foundation of firm drawing to the impressions he strove to convey. In these plates, however, he has cast aside this pains-taking method, and gone direct to the effect which he desired by the shortest and easiest route. He has been content to show us what his eyes can see, and not what his hand can do. They approach, therefore, much nearer to his method upon canvas than any that have been seen before. Their charm depends, not at all upon the technical qualities so striking in his earlier work, but upon their unity and simplicity of expression.' 21
These quotations suggest that Whistler was using The Palaces to emphasize the skill of his draughtsmanship and range of technical methods when drawing water and architecture. It is interesting, and an example of Whistler's perverse delight in not publishing the whole truth, that he did not reproduce a complimentary review in the Times, which had pointed out just these qualities:
'The quality of these etchings, taken as a whole, which will most surprise the outside public ... will be the excessive skill of the drawing, even where it is most free. Look, for instance at this, at the windows and the moored gondolas in the etching entitled "The Palaces" and at the drawing of the details of grated windows and shattered masonry which occur over and over again in this series.' 22
In subsequent years The Palaces was exhibited with other etchings from the 'First Venice Set' at a succession of important shows. Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) lent an impression to the Union League Club in New York in 1881 (). 23 Impressions were shown in Berlin in 1881 (); in Philadelphia in 1881 and 1902 (the latter lent by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)); at the Paris Salon in 1892; and the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901. 24 Impressions also went to International Exhibitions in Glasgow in 1888, lent by Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924), and in 1901, lent by James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901), and to one in Wolverhampton in 1902. 25

Others were shown in print dealer's shows, particularly by H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, in 1883, 1898, and 1903, and by Obach & Co. in London in 1903. These included a trial proof, sold through Wunderlich's to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1898 (). 26 It was shown with prints and plates by Robert Dunthorne in Liverpool in 1893.

23: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 156-167).

24: Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 153); see REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

25: Glasgow 1888 (cat. no. 2552-13); Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 222).

26: New York 1898 (cat. no. 132).

One impression was lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) to the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, followed by a show organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900, and to the Whistler memorial exhibition in Boston in 1904 (). 27

After Whistler's death, impressions were exhibited in several other memorial exhibitions, two states were shown in New York (at the Grolier Club) in 1904, one in Paris in 1905, one in London (lent from the Royal Collection) in 1905 and one in Rotterdam, lent by Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), in 1906. 28

27: Chicago 1893 (cat. no. 2240 [1659]); Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 134); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 120).

28: New York 1904a (cat. nos. 154a, b); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 153); Rotterdam 1906 (cat. no. 38).


Most impressions of The Palaces were sold by and through the Fine Art Society in London. Some went to dealers, perhaps on consignment. For instance, Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) sold one to the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin in 1882 (). 29 Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) bought an impression with a complete Venice set from H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1890 (). Whistler sent an impression from Paris to the F.A.S. in 1892, including an impression specially selected for Howard Mansfield (1849-1938). 30 Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) bought a late impression from Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) in 1894 ().

At the sale of the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) at Sotheby’s, 3 March 1892, Lot 332 was bought by the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for £5.15.0 and Lot 239 by Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915) for £8.15.0. Dunthorne sold his acquisition to Wunderlich's for £11.4.5 () making a quick profit (it is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts).

29: Inventory books, Kupferstichkabinett Berlin.

30: Whistler to M.B. Huish, [February/August 1892], GUW #02968.

Other British collectors included Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934), possibly bought from Dowdeswell's (). Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) owned a trial proof, which was sold through Wunderlich's to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1898 (). American collectors, who were in the majority, included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), who bought one before 1881 (); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916), who bought another by 1893 (); J.L Claghorn (d. 1882) (); John Pomeroy Townsend (1832-1898) (); Clarence Buckingham (1855-1913) (); Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) (); and Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919), son of Whistler's West Point master, Robert Walter Weir (1803-1889) ().
The artist was allowed by the terms of his agreement with the Fine Art Society to sell 'printer's proofs' of different states. He sold what was described as '1st [proof]' to Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) on 13 May 1891 for £8.8.0. 31 He sold an impression in 1898 to Wunderlich's for £12.12.0 and another in May 1900 for £10.1.7 (). 32 He also retained impressions of several states, which were in his studio on his death and bequeathed to Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), who gave one () and bequeathed the others to the University of Glasgow (, ) including a cancelled impression ().

31: GUW #13068.

32: Wunderlich's to Whistler, 24 March 1899, GUW #07305; stock number 'a 33944'.