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Windows, Bourges

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 398
Date: 1888
Medium: etching
Size: 149 x 80 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 3
Catalogues: K.400; M.399
Impressions taken from this plate  (3)


architecture, birdcage, building, window.


Possible variations on the title are as follows:

Possibly 'Little Hotel Alemant - Bourges' (1888, Whistler). 3
Possibly 'Little Hotel Allemant' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)) 4
'Windows, Bourges' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 5

'Windows, Bourges', the title published by Mansfield and later cataloguers, has been accepted. The title can be confused with that of Windows opposite Hotel, Bourges 397.

Neither Whistler nor his wife actually included an etching called 'Windows, Bourges' in listing all the 'French Plates' from their honeymoon, but he listed one called 'Little Hotel Alemant - Bourges' and this has not otherwise been identified (it was distinguished in the list from Hôtel Lallement, Bourges 396).

However, to avoid confusion, the title published by Mansfield and later cataloguers, 'Windows, Bourges', has been accepted.

3: List, [August 1887/1888], GUW #13233; and also B. Whistler's list, [1890/1892], #12715.

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

5: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 399).


Three storeys of a building are just visible; at the lower left corner is the top of one window and at upper right the bottom of a window, with flowers and bird cages on a small balcony or window-box. In the central storey is a narrow window opening inwards, and a flowering plant below it. On each side of this window there are slender pilasters with late Gothic or early Renaissance-style ornamental details.
The butterfly signature was one newly evolved by Whistler, incorporating a shaded 'trefoil' behind the butterfly itself. This was a tribute to his new wife, whose monogram, evolved from her original initials 'BP' (Birnie Philip) was a trefoil. The trefoil was itself a symbol of good luck, and, as Whistler said, she had brought him good luck.


Bourges is a historic town in the Centre region of France, southwest of Tours, noted for its Gothic cathedral of Saint-Etienne.

This could be 2 Rue d'Auron, the house of Sire de Leodepard, directeur des Monnaies de Bourges, which was for a long time thought, wrongly, to be the birthplace of Jacques Coeur. 6

Alternatively it could be of one of the windows of the large wooden house on the corner of the Place Cordaine. 7

According to Joseph Pennell (1860-1926), 'This house is near the Hôtel d'Or in Bourges, and is one of the group etched by Meryon.' 8 In 1853 Charles Méryon (1821-1868) had etched a melodramatic view of a group of buildings in La Rue des Toiles, à Bourges. 9 However, it certainly is not exactly the same building, or viewpoint, seen in Whistler's etching. Whistler's simple, vignetted view contrasts very strongly with the high finish and melodramatic lighting of Meryon's composition.

Whistler's Bourges etchings, apart from this one, are Court of the Monastery of St. Augustine, Bourges 403, Hôtel Lallement, Bourges 396, Windows opposite Hotel, Bourges 397, Notre-Dame, Bourges 402 and Beatrice Whistler painting from a window, Bourges 399.

6: Roger Richet, Bourges pas a pas, Ambiele, 1984, pp. 25-6.

7: A. Buhot de Kersers, Statistique monumentale du département du Cher, Bourges, 1875, pl. xv.

8: J. Pennell, Draft catalogue of Whistler's etchings (cat. no. 313), Library of Congress, Pennell Collection, Box 353.

9: Etching and drypoint, Delteil 55, Schneiderman 31.


Lochnan comments on Whistler's selective treatment of architectural details:
'French Renaissance architecture is characterised by flat volumetric surfaces embellished with ornament localised in the vicinity of doorways and windows, gables and turrets. ... He was interested in such "notes" in the composition of the façade as ... the window surround in Window, Bourges ... He would ... select from the façade only those details which interested him, creating from compositional fragments a composition complete in itself.' 10
In this case it seems likely that the view was chosen for its convenience, being directly across a street or courtyard from Whistler's viewpoint, a second-storey window, as was a similar view, Windows opposite Hotel, Bourges 397, and a more elaborate windows subject, Renaissance Window 417.
The etching under discussion here, Windows, Bourges, is itself a small etching with a curious asymmetrical composition and very little detail. It is one of the most minimalist of his compositions.