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The Hoop (Gray's Inn)

Impression: Boston Public Library
Boston Public Library
Number: 287
Date: 1887
Medium: etching
Size: 177 x 128 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 1
Catalogues: K.301; M.296
Impressions taken from this plate  (1)


baby, children, game, garden, hoop, Inns of Court, landscape, tree, woman seated.


There is some confusion over the title of this etching, because it can easily be confused with others of similar subjects. Thus it is not absolutely certain that all the following titles refer to this etching:

'The Hoop (Gray’s Inn)' (1887, Whistler). 2
'Grays Inn The Hoop' or 'The Baby & the Ball (Grays Inn)' or 'Under the Trees' (1887/1888, Whistler). 3
Possibly 'Baby - (The) and the Ball' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 4
'Under the trees, Gray's Inn (1895, Whistler). 5
'The Garden; Gray's Inn' (1903/1935, possibly Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958)). 6
'Children, Gray's Inn' (1904, Grolier Club). 7
'Children, Gray's Inn' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 8

The earliest securely dated reference provides a clear and descriptive title, 'The Hoop (Gray's Inn)', which is preferred to the less specific published titles.

2: Whistler to T. M. McLean, 21 December 1887, GUW #13017.

3: List, [1887/1888], GUW #13233.

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

5: Whistler to Wunderlich's, GUW #07271.

6: Envelope containing copper plate, Hunterian Art Gallery.

7: New York 1904a (cat. no. 311).

8: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 296).


Ten children are playing on the grass. At left, a girl stands with a baby on her shoulders; to her right are two seated girls and a standing boy; and in the right foreground, the head and shoulders of another girl. Further away are two babies sitting on the grass at left, and on the right, a boy holding a large hoop, and a girl standing. All the children are facing away from the viewer. In the middle distance is a bench on which a woman and two children are seated, under a tree, and in front of a path. Across the path, more lawns extend to a large building, of which only the cellar and ground floor windows are visible. Several trees are scattered across the lawn, and two more children are playing in the distance at right under the trees. It is sunny, most of the children are wearing hats or bonnets, and the trees cast shadows back and to left.


Etching: c_K301_01
Gray's Inn Gardens, 2011.
Photo © M.F. MacDonald, Whistler Etchings Project, 2011.
Inns of Court, Gray's Inn, London, UK. Gray's Inn, London, was a sheltered precinct containing rooms for barristers. Whistler made a group of etchings there: The Steps, Gray's Inn 282, The Young Tree 285, Gray's Inn Place 281, The Baby, Gray's Inn 288, The Long Seats, Gray's Inn 283, Doorway, Gray's Inn 289 and probably The Little Nurse, Grays Inn 286. Most of these show well- and over-dressed babies and children with their nannies and mothers sitting or playing (with balls or hoops) on the lawns of the Inns of Court.


Lochnan comments: 'Whistler made charming plein-air studies of children in Gray's Inn Place which recall En plein soleil of 1858. .... The distribution of the children on the lawn, represented as a neutral ground ... provided the artist with the elements for his compositional arrangements.' 9

9: Lochnan 1984[more], p. 226.

Several etchings of the period, such as Marbles 270 or The Menpes Children 300, show children playing games. This is also comparable to the etchings of the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, particularly Bébés, Jardin du Luxembourg 463, which is the same size. It is possible Whistler was contemplating a series of garden/park subjects, to complement the street/shop scenes - or just that he liked sitting in the park on sunny summer days surrounded by women and children.
Although one might have thought these subjects eminently saleable, in fact Whistler printed and sold very few impressions.