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The Dance House: Nocturne

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 455
Date: 1889
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 274 x 169 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 17
Catalogues: K.408; M.407; W.265
Impressions taken from this plate  (17)


This beautiful, complex composition is constructed with a network of line and patches of shading and cross-hatching in both etching and drypoint.


The first proof was printed in dark brown ink, with light tone selectively wiped (so that the lantern appears bright) on ivory laid paper with 'HK' or 'HR' countermark (). Other early impressions were printed in dark brown ink and include the second state printed on light-weight cream laid paper () and other impressions on laid paper with a 'Pro Patria' watermark in brown (, ) and in black ink (). Two - a fourth () and fifth () state - are in dark brown ink on Foolscap watermarked ivory laid paper, while the following sixth state has an 'LT' countermark (). Finally, some are on Japanese paper (, ). All were trimmed to the platemark and signed with his butterfly monogram and 'imp.' to show Whistler printed them.
A number of impressions of Dutch etchings were numbered and dated, including two that appear to have been printed on 25 February 1890. 'l. Feb. 25 -' is written on The Dance House: Nocturne () and '2 - Feb - 25 - ' on Pierrot (). This shows that Whistler did not concentrate on printing only one etching on any one day, but printed from different plates, possibly as he built up sets for particular clients.
Early in March 1890 an impression that, judging by the description, was of the fifth or sixth (final) state, was shown to a journalist, who described it as:
'a wonderful representation of night on one of the canals, the weird and ghostlike gloom being shown by a brilliant flash of light and a lantern placed in one of the mullioned windows above. ... Night has no form - gloom no length and breadth, This particular nocturne, however, is full of the most delicate and elaborate detail when your eyes have accustomed themselves to the lantern flash. You see the shadows of people through the blinds and curtains, and the glow of the oil lamps softened by the gloom of night.' 18
There may have been a print-run of as many as twenty. Regarding the number of impressions pulled from his copper plates, Whistler said that 'the numbers vary according to his judgement ... oftimes a dozen or twenty proofs, each having the sign of the butterfly, and the little note which shows that he also printed the proof.' His studio, wrote the journalist, was 'like a workshop' full of 'the presses and inking trolleys with which he is now at work'. 19

19: Ibid.

At some time between 1890/1891, Whistler recorded having seven unmounted impressions of The Dance House: Nocturne in stock, and one mounted. 20

20: GUW #13236.