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Bird-Cages, Chelsea

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 297
Date: 1887
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 153 x 230 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 8
Catalogues: K.276; M.271
Impressions taken from this plate  (8)
Bird-Cages, Chelsea probably dates from 1887. The scene includes a poster announcing 'AMBER', referring to the play The Amber Heart by Alfred Cecil Calmour (1857-1912). It opened at the Lyceum Theatre on 10 May 1887. 1

The butterfly signature is consistent with a date of about 1887. However, the etching could date from early in the following year and was first sold in July 1888. 2

Whistler's wife-to-be, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896) - they were married in August 1888 - was an artist and designer, and many of her designs incorporate birds and cages. 3 It is possible that Whistler's interest in the subject was aroused by her and not just by the complex geometrical shapes of the cages against a rectangular façade.

1: 'Lyceum Theatre', The Times, 8 June 1887, p. 9.

2: Whistler to R. F. Knoedler, 27 July 1888, GUW #13660.

3: Glasgow 1997, pp. 26-30, cat. nos.8-14, 53-55.