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The Steps, Amsterdam

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 452
Date: 1889
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 242 x 166 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 5
Known impressions: 14
Catalogues: K.403; M.402; W.260
Impressions taken from this plate  (14)


building, canal, children, façade, house, laundry, people, steps, washing, woman.


There are numerous variations on the exact form of the title and punctuation, as in the following examples:

'The Steps. Amsterdam' (1890, Whistler). 1
'Royen Gracht (The Steps)' (1890, Whistler). 2
'Royen Gracht Amsterdam' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 3
'Steps (Amsterdam)' (1890, Whistler). 4
'The Steps' (1891, Whistler). 5
'Steps, Amsterdam' (1899, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 6

'The Steps, Amsterdam' is based on Whistler's original title, although it is tempting to add the name of the canal, the Royen Gracht.

1: Whistler to R. Dunthorne, 17 February 1890, GUW #13039.

2: Whistler to C.L. Freer, 4 March 1890, GUW #13065.

3: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

4: Whistler to C.L. Freer, 16 June [1890], GUW #13066

5: Whistler to S. Mallarmé, 21 February [1891], GUW #00920

6: Wedmore 1899[more], cat. no. 260.


A view across a canal to a cobbled pavement supported on wooden piling, and the broad façade of a house. The house appears to have plastered walls (the adjoining houses, just visible at the sides, are brick). A broad flight of steps leads from the pavement to three adjoining doorways between large square windows. A girl with her back turned is standing on the pavement in front of the steps, and a woman with a child in her arms at the foot of the steps. Clothes are hung to dry across the door at left and the window to left of it. In the central door is a small child standing, and a woman stands in front of the door-jamb looking over the half-closed door, to right, at the women in the dark interior. In the storey above, two smaller square windows flank a narrow window of four panes. Clothes hang on poles below the window at upper right, where faces are seen peering out. Elaborate lace or patterned curtains hang in the windows. Just below street level on either side of the steps are semi-basements, each with a small window and open doorway, with women and children standing inside and out. The scene is reflected in the canal.


The shop front of No. 148 Lijnbaansgracht, near the corner of Laurierstraat and Lijnbaansgracht, in the city of Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands. 7 Beatrice Whistler called it the 'Royen Gracht'. 8

Whistler also made a watercolour sketch of the building (reproduced below), but left it unfinished.
Etching: c_K403_01
r.: House by a canal, Amsterdam; v.: Study of a head m1237,
Charcoal and watercolour, 1889,
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow (46143).

7: Heijbroek 1997[more], pp. 64-65.

8: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

The Lijnbaansgracht, including these houses, was photographed by the Dutch artist George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) about 1895. 9 It has been redeveloped and no traces of the original buildings survive.

9: Heijbroek 1997[more], p. 67, fig. 82.