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Reading by Lamplight

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 37
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 161 x 120 mm
Signed: 'J. Whistler' at lower right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 3
Known impressions: 40
Catalogues: K.32; M.30; T.24; W.25
Impressions taken from this plate  (40)


clothing, dress, fashion, lamp, portrait, reading, woman seated.


There are several minor variations in the title, as follows:

'La dame lisant' (1859, Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910)). 3
'Reading by lamplight' (1872, British Museum). 4
'Reading by Lamplight' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 5
'Mrs. Haden, reading' (1881, Union League Club). 6
'Reading by Lamp-light' (1900, Caxton Club). 7

However, Thomas's title 'Reading by Lamplight' has become generally accepted.

3: Haden to H. Fantin-Latour, GUW #13140.

4: B.M. Register of Purchases ... 1872.

5: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 24).

6: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 37-38).

7: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 25)


Deborah Haden is sitting in profile to right, behind a round table on which sit a cup and saucer. To right, a tall table-lamp casts a bright light on the book, her face and in a semi-circle on the wall behind. She holds the book close to her face. She wears a full skirted dress ornamented with bands of glossy ribbon, and a fitted jacket with wide sleeves over a full-sleeved white blouse. She has dark, glossy hair folded into a bun at the nape of her neck. She wears a wedding ring, and hoop earrings.
Thomas described it as 'very rare; a Lady reading: the lamp is standing on a basin reversed: cup and saucer on the table'. Wedmore commented: 'An effect of light, from a high reading-lamp, ...The lower part of the wall, behind the reading lady, receives some light from the lamp: its upper part is in fairly luminous shadow.' 8

8: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 24); Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 25).


Etching: K0330202
Deborah Delano Haden (1825-1908). She was very short sighted, and went blind in old age. Deborah is seen in a similar pose, facing the other way, in The Music Room 039, reproduced above. She also appeared in near profile in Whistler's oil painting, Harmony in Green and Rose: The Music Room y034, reproduced below.
Etching: c_K030_01
J.McN. Whistler, Harmony in Green and Rose: The Music Room y034,
Freer Gallery of Art.
Francis Seymour Haden etched Deborah in the same pose and possibly at the same time as Whistler. His etching, reproduced below, is in horizontal format, and includes the teacup and lamp.
Etching: c_K032_04
F.S. Haden, A Lady Reading, 1858, etching and drypoint,
British Museum 1910,0421.3.

In Haden's second state the design of the dress was clearer: the sleeve was edged with lace, and she was wearing a bead necklace, possibly pearls. Behind the lamp and to right of it was a curtain. In Haden's final, third state, the upturned bowl is removed and the lamp is standing on the table. The drypoint results in a rich, soft black in the background shadows and the dress, but the actual cross-hatching in the shadows is much more open. 9

9: Schneiderman, Richard S, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Prints of Sir Francis Seymour Haden, London, 1983 (cat. no. 10); Harrington, Henry Nazeby, The Engraved Work of Sir Francis Seymour Haden, P.R.E.: an illustrated and descriptive catalogue, Liverpool, 1910 (cat. no. 9).

Etching: c_K032_02
F.S. Haden, Dasha, 1859, etching,
British Museum,1937,0612.11 . 10

Another etched portrait of Deborah by Seymour Haden, reproduced above, was done about the same time, and shows her head and shoulder in profile.

Lochnan suggests that Haden and Whistler were exploring ideas for a composition to be developed for submission to the Paris Salon, and that such subjects might have been influenced by, and discussed with Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), 11 whose portrait The Two Sisters (oil, 1859), they would have known. 12

A small realist still-life in oil by Fantin-Latour of a White cup and saucer, painted in 1864, was owned by their mutual friend Elizabeth Ruth Edwards (ca 1833- d.1907) and is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum. 13

10: Harrington 1910 (cat. no. 8 trial B); Schneiderman 1983 (cat. no. 13.II).

11: Lochnan 1984[more], p. 65.

12: Saint Louis Art Museum Acc. No. 8:1937; Druick, Douglas and Michel Hoog. Fantin-Latour, Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, 1983, cat. no. 20.

13: Acc. No. 1016, website at (accessed 2012).


An earlier portrait of Deborah by Haden was thought by Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) to be by Whistler. He listed it in his Appendix as Portrait of a Lady. 14 However, it is undoubtedly by Haden, and is an almost exact mirror image of yet another etching by Haden, a head-and-shoulders profile portrait, now in the British Museum, reproduced below.

14: Kennedy 1910[more], Appendix II.

Etching: c_K032_03
F.S.Haden, Dasha, No. 1, 1857, etching,
British Museum 1937,0612.2. 15

15: Schneiderman 1983 (cat. no. 7.I).