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: Whistler Etchings


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
"The greatest personality in the history of modern etching"—that is what Arthur M. Hind of the British Museum says of Whistler in his invaluable History of Engraving and Etching. No one is likely to dispute this statement, even Mr. Pennell who likes an argument better than anything else. He might insist, however, that Whistler was the greatest personality in the entire history of etching but that is a question with which we are not immediately concerned.The point is that sixty etchings from the group of one hundred and eight owned by the Institute have just been placed on view in the Print Galleries. They are a fine lot, covering the whole period of his artistic career. From the early French Set there are the "Street at Saverne" and the "little Arthur," with their simple handling of light and shade. From the Thames Set of sixteen etchings issued in 1871, there are many on view. These records of the picturesque waterfront life of the Thames below the bridges are among the most prized both for their brilliance and for their masterful draftsmanship. The well known "Black Lion Wharf" and "Rotherhithe" are included. The "Free Trade Wharf," a separate and less known plate, is shown here for the first time.Until about 1860 Whistler followed along the lines which Meryon and some of the other French etchers had established. From then on he advanced along new lines, adding essentially new elements to the old traditions. In the Venice Set and in the "Twenty Six Etchings" of 1886, economy of means and adaptation of these means to the size of his plates were apparently becoming more and more his ideals. His interest was more in figure and design than in the expression of emotional elements. Not that these are lacking. Many in the "Set of Twenty Six" have the power of stirring the observer deeply—of stimulating his imagination and of creating a mood that only a great work can create. "Pierrot" and "Zaandam" are examples of his later work when he apparently gave up his efforts to achieve special effects, most of them highly successful, by his manner almost entirely on the etched line in its purest form. Whistler can print his own plates well.Already the tendency is to regard Whistler as a greater etcher than painter, and without disparagement to his skill as a painter. No visitor can see this exhibition without feeling a new enthusiasm for this master. Here one sees him at his best and more completely than ever before. Whistler was a great personality but primarily he was a great artist.
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Source: "Whistler Etchings," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 15, no. 16 (April, 1926): 90.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009