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Return to Tilbury

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 311
Date: 1887
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 133 x 97 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 18
Catalogues: K.327; M.321; W.244
Impressions taken from this plate  (18)


Return to Tilbury was executed in etching, with a number of drypoint additions.


Having drawn the scene on the copper plate on 23 July 1887, on his return to London Whistler immediately etched the plate and started printing. He listed impressions printed in August and September 1887. According to these records, four impressions of Return to Tilbury were printed up to 19 August; three more on the 23rd, five on the 26th and one on 28 August; and finally ten on 1 September. However, the lists are not entirely clear and may overlap with a record of impressions in stock. Whistler then noted that he had twenty prints in stock, and in two further columns recorded eleven remaining on 31 August (presumably after selling a few) and, after more sales, seven on 26 September 1887. 7

7: [19 August-26 September], GUW #13234.

However, nearly two years later, he recorded 17 impressions in stock on 18 July 1889, and later confirmed 17 unmounted plus one mounted impression in the studio. 8 There may be some inaccuracy in the records, or he may have written '17' but meant '7'; otherwise there simply seem too many recorded in these lists. The numbers located conflict with these stock-taking records.

8: GUW #13235; [1890/1891], #13236.

All are printed on laid paper. the early impressions mostly on ivory (, , , ) or cream laid paper (). Second states are likewise on ivory (, , ) and cream laid paper (). These were followed by more on cream (), cream 'antique' (pre-1800) (); ivory with an Arms of Amsterdam watermark (, ); medium-weight 'antique' ivory paper with brown fibres, with old pen writing on the verso (); dark ivory (); ivory with a partial crest watermark (); and cream paper ().
Most were printed in brown or dark brown ink, but several early impressions (, , , ) and a late one () are in black ink. All are trimmed to the platemark and signed on the tab with a butterfly and 'imp.' to show that Whistler printed them. Several were printed with delicately graduated surface tone (i.e. , , , , , ).
Three are marked with a small 'o' on the verso, possibly a mark indicating quality, but not necessarily with the intention of selling them to particular clients since two were then kept by Whistler (, ) while only the third was sold (). One of these is also inscribed 'No 5.' () which might have indicated a printing sequence except that no other impression is so distinguished, or a sales list, except that it was not sold, or the state, except that as far as is known it is not the fifth state. In other words it is a mystery!