Home > The Catalogue > Browse > Subjects > Etchings > Etching

The Beggars

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 190
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 307 x 212 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left (1-3); replaced with new butterfly (4); redrawn (5-6); removed (8)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 17
Known impressions: 57
Catalogues: K.194; M.191; W.159
Impressions taken from this plate  (57)


The Beggars was published as No. 3, in Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings (the 'First Venice Set') by the Fine Art Society, London, in 1880.


After publication, The Beggars was exhibited with the 'First Venice Set' at the Fine Art Society in 1880, 1883 and 1892, and in the USA with H. Wunderlich & Co. in 1883. 37 In 1880 The Globe critic commented 'The two large plates, "The Traghetto" and "The Beggars", each representing a long covered way with picturesque and appropriate figures, as regards beauty of tone and perfect balance of light and shade, could hardly be surpassed.' 38

When Whistler was deciding on the exact content of the first Venice Set, he made a pen sketch, Venice etchings m0837, showing how they might be arranged. A first row contained The Little Venice 238 , The Two Doorways 221, The Little Lagoon 216, Traghetto 231, The Piazzetta 218, The Venetian Mast 219, and The Palaces 223. The next had The Riva 229, The Beggars, San Biagio 237, The Doorway 193 and Nocturne 222. All these were included in the first 'Venice Set' except San Biagio, for which he substituted The Little Mast. Thus in this arrangement, two large upright compositions, The Beggars and The Doorway, framed a lighter, large horizontal scene, San Biagio, and this trio were framed between two distant views of Venice, one by day (The Riva, No. 1) and one by night (Nocturne).

37: London FAS 1880 (cat. no. 3). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

38: 'Mr. Whistler's Etchings,' The Globe, London, 3 December 1880 (PC4/15).

To complement The Beggars when it was exhibited in 1883, Whistler selected two quotations for the catalogue: 'In the character of humanity he has not time to be interested', from the London Standard, and 'General absence of tone', which was originally written by Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894). 39 Clearly Whistler was emphasizing by these quotations that the figures were character studies, and that the setting included a range of tonal effects from bright light to deepest shadow.

Contemporary critics found the figures 'picturesque and appropriate', and the Globe commented that, 'as regards beauty of tone and perfect balance of light and shade, [The Beggars] could hardly be surpassed'. 40 In 1883 a journalist commented on the fact that, when he chose, Whistler could depict 'the character of humanity.' 41

39: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 50).

40: Globe, London, 3 December 1880.

41: 'Mr Whistler's Exhibition', Saturday Review, 24 February 1883 (GUL PC 25/32).

Impressions of The Beggars were also included in shows organised by private clubs, including the Union League Club in New York in 1881, lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (). 42 It was very popular - as were other Venetian prints - in international exhibitions, and was shown, for instance, in Philadelphia in 1881, Berlin in 1881 (), Paris in 1892, and Chicago in 1893 (selected by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938), and lent by George W. Bramhall (1847-1925)). 43

42: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 156-7).

43: Mansfield to Whistler, 10 January 1893, GUW #04000. Chicago 1893 (cat. no. 2245).

Octave Maus (1856-1919) had asked Whistler for works for an exhibition in the Netherlands in 1892, and Whistler belatedly asked his wife if anything could be organised: 'would three of the framed Venice do? "Doorway" - "Beggars" - & "Traghetto?" I dont even know that there is time -.' 44 In this case it seems there was not enough time.

44: [30 January 1892], GUW #06608.

The art dealers Grosvenor Thomas & Paterson showed a large selection of drawings and etchings in Glasgow in 1892 and Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) an interesting group of prints and plates in Liverpool in 1893. The Glasgow newspaper commented :
'No one disputes Mr Whistler's absolute superiority as an etcher. Mr. Whistler's etchings are of Continental origin, chiefly from the Adriatic. Venice, indeed, is crowded with artistic suggestion. ... Picturesque doorways, with trailing vines, palaces and balconies with figures, and other features of the architecture and social life of Venice, supply Mr. Whistler with subjects for his art, which is exquisitely minute, and especially powerful in its contrasting lights and shadows. The penury of ''The Beggars'' is emphasised by the gloom of their surroundings'. 45
Etching: K1940204
Likewise, in America, print dealer's shows, particularly those of H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and 1903, included examples. Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought his unique impression of the first state - reproduced above - at Wunderlich's in 1898 ().
In 1900, Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) lent an impression to the show organised by the Caxton Club, Chicago (). 46 Whistler continued to be represented by The Beggars in International exhibitions. A year later, in 1901, another impression was lent by James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901) to the Glasgow International exhibition, 47 while others were exhibited in Buffalo in 1901 and Wolverhampton in 1902.

46: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 140).

47: Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 236).

Impressions were also shown in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death. Four were shown at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904, including Freer's unique first state (). Others were seen in the Boston show in 1904, lent by Mansfield (), and in the Paris and London shows in 1905. 48

48: New York 1904a (cat. no. 161); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 127).


Whistler was contracted to print and sell The Beggars as part of the 'First Venice Set' through the Fine Art Society. However, he could sell 'printer's proofs' of which there were a fair number - at least ten and possibly twice that number. He capitalised on these proofs: for instance, he sold a 'unique state' of The Beggars to the London print dealer, Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) for £21.0.0 in October 1887, noting 'I believe only proof pulled of that state'. 49 Sales by Whistler direct to dealers included another to McLean for £10.10.0 in 1887, and to the Dutch art dealer Elbert Jan Van Wisselingh. (1848-1912) in 1889 for an unspecified amount. 50

49: [October/November 1887], GUW #13015.

50: 5 October 1887, GUW #13014; [31 July 1889], #12724.

Two 'trial proofs' from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) were bought by the print dealers Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) and Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) in 1892 for £5.5.0 and £5.10.0, and a third impression was bought by Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915) for £8.0.0. Furthermore, at the same sale, 'a slight sketch washed with sepia, dated Chelsea, Sep. 18th, 1881' was bought by 'Barr' for only £1.12.0. This was the Study for 'The Beggars' (K194) m0864. 51

51: Sotheby's, London, 3 March 1892 (lots 251-254).

In 1892 Whistler asked Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932):
'what did Huish say about the new prices of these last states? Did he see that they should be equivalent to say the least - though I think even more than, my own later etchings? I mean that of course it would never do to ask less than 15 gs for ... "The Beggars" - ...Some of the finer proofs ought to be 18 or by and bye 20 gs - ' 52
Kennedy wanted several more impressions, and Whistler wrote, in September 1894: 'I am taking up the printing of the Venice Etchings - and you are to have your signed "Doorway" - and "Beggars" - Six of each is it?' 53 However, Whistler does not seem to have printed these nor did he receive these prices. He sold just two to Wunderlich's, through Kennedy (£10.10.0 in 1897, and £12.12.0 in 1898) and one to Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) in London for £15.15.0 in 1903. 54

53: 22 September 1894, GUW #09720.

54: [June/August 1897], GUW #07288, and 24 March 1899, #07305; [20 April 1903], #13041.

In 1882 Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) possibly acting on a commission from the F.A.S. had sold an early impression to the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin (). 55 It was annotated by Whistler, presumably when printed, with a cryptic code: 'x' in a circle and '.W. x', which may mean it was selected for a particular dealer, exhibition or collector. Another early impression was annotated with a tiny semi-circle (). By 1892, Whistler was habitually selecting, marking and signing works specially for certain dealers and patrons. For instance, he told M. B. Huish,

55: Inventory books, Kupferstichkabinett Berlin.

'You will see that I have marked for Mr Mansfield.
1. "Palaces" - 1 "Doorway" 1. "Traghetto". 1. "Beggars". 1. "Two Doorways".
For Mr E. G. Kennedy. 2. "Doorway". 2. "Beggars". 1. "Two Doorways". 2. "Traghettos".
Mr Browne knows where on the back to look for these delicate signs - together with others signifying choice -
There are one or two marked Ex. for you to frame and show - ' 56
Furthermore, Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915), when asking Whistler to print more, specifically asked: 'When you are printing "The Beggars["] and "The Doorway" will you please mark one of each "selected" for me the same as you did for Mr Howard Mansfield'. 57 Although no impression of The Beggars with such inscriptions has been located, it is quite possible that he complied, as he did in the case of other prints of the period. In fact he added rather fuller inscriptions on several impressions of The Beggars, possibly at the request of dealers or collectors.

57: 17 September 1892, GUW #01255.

Many years after it was first printed, Whistler annotated one of the first proofs of this etching ''Intermediate state of "The Beggars" / unique proof I believe' (); this was sold by Obach & Co. in July 1903 to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) for £75.0.0. Freer had already bought a unique impression of the first state, as well as one of the sixth state, from the collection of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), through Wunderlich's in 1898 (, ). Whistler wrote 'Very early state' on another impression, of the fifth state () and 'Proof before later / complete plate state of Plate' on a late impression that remained in his own collection ().
Early European collections included the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin, which bought one from Thibaudeau in 1882, as mentioned above (); James Guthrie Orchar (1825-1888) (), and Gottfried Eissler (1862-1924) (). In 1897 Colnaghi's sold a good impression of the final state on Japanese paper to the Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden ().
US collectors included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (); John Henry Wrenn (1841-1911) (); George W. Davison (); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (); J.L Claghorn (d. 1882) (); Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), who bought a set from Wunderlich's (); Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (); Alexander John Godbey (1853-1934) and Clarence Buckingham (1855-1913) (); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (), and Albert Henry Wiggin (1868-1951) ().