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JAMES MCNEILL WHISTLER (1834-1903)
The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond this. This important group of etchings comprises one of the most magnificent plates from the Venice set and the greater part of the Amsterdam series. Taken together they contain all the important elements which exemplify Whistler's idiosyncratic talents as a printmaker. They also reflect the many and diverse lessons learned over thirty years of experimentation, refinement and travel. A seminal moment in Whistler's development as a printmaker occurred in 1857 when he attended a landmark exhibition in Manchester (GET NAME). Here he saw masterpieces of Dutch printmaking by Berchem, Ostade, Waterloo, Dujardin and, above all, Rembrandt. It spawned a lifelong love affair with the Dutch 17th Century tradition and from then on he devoted his time to portraits, landscapes and domestic scenes. Technically, Whistler's most important early lessons in printmaking came at the workshop of Delatre in Paris the following year. It was here that he learned the practice of 'artistic' printing - leaving thin veils of ink selectively on the plate to change the mood of the image. But whilst the technical lessons might have been learned in Paris, the primary artistic model was undoubtedly Rembrandt, of whom Whistler and his brother-in-law Francis Seymour Haden had become devoted acolytes. As inspiration they were able to call on one of the greatest examples of printmaking ever, Haden's rare first state of Rembrandt's The Three Crosses, a masterclass in the potentialities of line and tone. It was in Paris also that Whistler began to pay close attention to paper. The paper most widely available then was bleached white and made from wood-pulp, but Whistler favoured old Dutch papers which could be found with much diligent searching in the fly-leaves of old books. He also valued thin silky Japanese papers which were becoming available as trade with Japan began after their long isolation. An interest in Japan was not confined to paper, however. He was profoundly influenced by ukiyo-e woodcuts and the way in which they flattened the picture space. Towards the end of the 1850s he began to synthesize these ideas with lessons then being learned from photography. The effects of this radical foreshortening were first seen in the Thames etchings of the late 1850s.
JAMES MCNEILL WHISTLER (1834-1903)

Nocturne: Palaces

Details
JAMES MCNEILL WHISTLER (1834-1903)
Nocturne: Palaces
etching and drypoint, 1879-1880, on laid paper, watermark Hunting Horn in Shield, signed with the butterfly on the tab and annotated imp, a fine impression of Glasgow's third state (of twelve), the vertical drypoint lines top and bottom printing with burr, in addition to the 54 impressions in all states recorded so far by the Whistler Etchings Project, trimmed to the plate as published, a few pinpoint foxmarks verso, generally in very good condition
Image, Sheet: 11 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (300 x 201 mm.)
Provenance
Frederick Keppel & Co., N.Y.
Mrs John D. Rockefeller
Mr and Mrs John D. Rockefeller III
Dr and Mrs James W. Nelson
Linda Papaharis, New York, December 6, 1988
Literature
Kennedy 202; Glasgow 200

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Lot Essay

Nocturne: Palaces is amongst the most beautiful and haunting of all Whistler's prints. In a synthesis of line and tone the image is created through painterly inking that varies dramatically from impression to impression and state to state in the manner of a monotype, with the etched line serving only to provide an elementary framework. Encapsulating a fundamental advantage that printmaking has over painting, Whistler demonstrated that simply by varying the color of the ink, the amount left on the paper surface and the type of paper used, he could create any number of effects. Black ink gave the plate a cool feeling, while brown gave it a warm one. By leaving progressively more brown ink on the plate Whistler could suggest an early summer evening, a soft warm night and a sultry dark night. In the present impression Whistler evokes the onset of twilight with the sharply delineated central portion of the image fringed by the onset of evening.

The theme most effectively explored in the Venice etchings is one of a 'floating' city, seen at various times of day and night. The present work, together with Nocturne (K. 184) are acknowledged to be the greatest examples of these haunting depictions. They were made using a technique advocated by Lecoq de Boisbaudran, a drawing instructor who became known for an innovative method which emphasized memorization. His students were instructed to visit the Louvre, where they were to carefully study a painting in order to reproduce it from memory later, in the studio. The exercise was intended to help the student to discover his own visual language. Whistler had previously used the method on the Thames while collecting data for the painted nocturnes in the 1870s, carefully memorizing the details of the light and color as he was rowed on the river at night.

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