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San Giorgio

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 214
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 211 x 308 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower left (5)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Second Venice Set', 1886
No. of States: 5
Known impressions: 38
Catalogues: K.201; M.198; W.167
Impressions taken from this plate  (38)


Apart from several bands of very fine drypoint shading, added to the sky in the third state, this plate was executed in pure etching. Otto Henry Bacher (1856-1909) described Whistler's work on this plate:
'The lines of the Peninsula and Oriental steamer are exquisite. While he was working on this boat he painted out small parts of the general lines with the retouching varnish, varying them up and down, sometimes leaving them for several days, until the desired shape was obtained. The boat was left white because it fitted the general scheme of the plate. / Working at irregular intervals, Whistler devoted a month or six weeks to this plate. It is the only Whistler plate that was bitten with Dutch Mordant. He not only thought but always said that it was over-bitten.' 9


Early impressions, dating from 1880 or 1881, were printed in both brown and black ink, for instance the second state was printed in black on a cream laid VAN GELDER paper (), and on a fibrous Asian laid (). One third state - still dating from 1881 - was in black ink () and one in dark brown () on laid paper.
The fourth state, probably printed in 1885 or 1886, was in dark brown ink on cream 'antique' (pre-1800) laid paper () and it was in this state that Whistler was satisfied enough to pass the plate to the publishers.
In 1886, when Messrs Dowdeswell and Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) agreed to publish the 'Second Venice Set', the copper plate of San Giorgio was sent in Whistler's fourth state for printing by Émile Frédéric Salmon (1840-1913) in France. Salmon's impression is on a pale buff Japan paper now laid down on card, reproduced below ().
Etching: K2010305
Salmon printed it lightly in a warm-coloured black ink, but it did not print as cleanly as many of his proofs. This may have influenced Whistler in deciding to print the set himself.
The record of impressions of San Giorgio printed for this edition lists two delivered on 31 July, two on 20 August, ten on 29 September and fifteen on 15 December 1886; and seventeen on 17 January 1887, a total of 48. 10

The main print-run of San Giorgio occurred in the final, fifth state. Most were printed in dark brown ink, on a variety of papers, including ivory laid paper (), buff laid () and cream laid with Arms of Amsterdam/ 'LR' watermark (); and Asian laid (, ).

10: Whistler to W. Dowdeswell, GUW #08717.