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Sketch after Cecil Lawson's "Swan and Iris"

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 247
Date: 1882
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 142 x 82 (1); 134 x 82 (2) mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: E. W. Gosse, 'Cecil Lawson, a Memoir', London, 1883
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 32
Catalogues: K.241; M.238
Impressions taken from this plate  (32)


barge, bird, boat, bridge, flower, illustration, landscape, river, sailing boat, swan, tree.


Variations on the title are as follows:

'Sketch from Cecil Lawson' (1886, Whistler). 1
'Cecil Lawsons picture' (1887, Whistler). 2
'Souvenir of Cecil Lawson' (1892, Sotheby's). 3
'The Swan and Iris' (1898, Wunderlich's). 4
'Swan and Iris' (1902, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932)). 5
'Swan and Iris' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 6
'Sketch after Cecil Lawson's "Swan and Iris"' (2010, Whistler Etchings Project).

'Sketch after Cecil Lawson's "Swan and Iris"' is the preferred title, adapted from Whistler's title and those of other cataloguers.

1: Whistler to T. McLean, 17 May 1886, GUW #13011.

2: Whistler to Dowdeswell's, 28 April 1887, GUW #13020.

3: 3 March 1892 (lot 323).

4: New York 1898 (cat. no. 174).

5: Kennedy 1902[more] (cat. no. 310).

6: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 238).


A river scene is framed by the arch of a bridge across the top left. In the foreground at right is a flowering iris, and behind it, at left, a swan with wings spread wide. A river crosses the middle distance, receding into the distance at right. A small row boat is by the bank in the centre, and several sailing barges beyond it, at right. On the far bank of the river there are poplar trees and a dark shed with two high chimneys behind it. The sky is cloudy.


According to E. W. Gosse, in 1873 Cecil Gordon Lawson (1851-1882) painted a moonlight landscape called Twilight Grey:
'It is evident that Mr Whistler and the Japanese were engaging [Lawson's] thoughts about this time [1873], and he was never so near becooming a pure impressionist. The same tendency is visible in an extremely fine composition which he never finished, a swan startled under old Battersea Bridge, in which the lateral curves of the bank of mud in the foreground, of the Surrey shore beyond, and of the arch of the bridge, were contrasted in the most original way with the upright lines of the swan's body. Of this Mr Whistler has very kindly made an etching for the present memoir.' 7
The only trouble with Gosse's identification of the subject as old Battersea Bridge is that the wooden structure of the old bridge was not really arched; however, the subject is almost certainly one of the Thames bridges, possibly upstream where irises might have more chance of surviving.


The etching was done after an unfinished painting by Cecil Gordon Lawson (1851-1882), and was reproduced in Cecil Lawson: A Memoir by E.W.Gosse (London, The Fine Art Society, 1883). Lawson had died at the age of 30 in 1882. His widow Constance Lawson (1854-1929) was herself an artist (she painted flowers) and was the elder sister of Whistler's wife-to-be, Beatrice. 8 This was the only illustration produced by Whistler after his productions for the Junior Etching Club (The Punt 082, Sketching 083, Sketching, No. 2 084).

8: MacDonald 1995[more] (cat. no. 871).