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Bridge, Amsterdam

Bridge, Amsterdam
etching, 1889, on laid paper, signed with butterfly on the tab and annotated imp, a fine, luminous impression of Glasgow's first state (of five), before light vertical shading is added to the reflections in the canal in the foreground, inscribed for W/uunderlich 1st State on the reverse (presumably a reference to H. Wunderlich & Co. who exhibited the print and others from the 'Amsterdam set' in N.Y. in 1989), in addition to the 13 impressions in all states recorded so far by the Whistler Etchings Project, trimmed to the plate as published, minor thin spots at the corners on the reverse, generally in good condition
Image, Sheet: 6½ x 9½ in. (165 x 242 mm.)
George Washington Vanderbilt (1862-1914); his sale,
Sotheby's, Parke Bernet, May 14-16, 1974, lot 282
Sotheby's, New York, May 14, 1992, lot 387
Kennedy 409; Glasgow 447

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Lot Essay

Whistler's first close encounters with bridges must have come through his father, one of the most prominent civil engineers of his day. In artistic terms, however, they first appear in the (second?) Thames set of 1860-61 when he made several studies of bridges, including Vauxhall and Old Hungerford. It is clear that he was more interested in the old bridges that spanned the Thames rather than the wonders of Victorian technology which were rapidly replacing them. His interest in the wooden bridge as a subject may have sprung from the same preservationist instinct which led him to record vanishing parts of dockland. Both Putney and Battersea bridges had disappeared by 1890.

But it is also apparent from the structure of his compositions that his interest in the shape and decorative possibilities of wooden bridges was stimulated by his contact with the woodcuts of Hokusai and Hiroshige. He would have undoubtedly known Hokusai's Unusual Views of Famous Bridges Throughout the Country. Lot XXX shows the Japanese influence in its clearest form, with the focus on a single section of the bridge, abruptly truncating it at the edge of the plate in the Japanese manner. He also employed a low vantage point, just as Hokusai had done, and used an arch of the bridge to frame a distant view. Pedestrian traffic is used to enliven the otherwise static view. In the present work, however, this Japanese approach is tempered by his experiments in flattening the picture plane and his developments in filling the surface with a fine mesh of lines in richly patterned decoration. Having two examples of the same subject affords a rare opportunity to see how Whistler developed the image, adding detail.

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