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Whistler: A Selection

David Tunick, Inc

June 1 – August 31, 2020

Finette, James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Finette, 1859

Drypoint in black ink on tissue-thin, white, fibrous laid paper

315 x 208 mm. 12 3/8 x 8 1/4 in.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nude Reclining

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Nude Reclining, 1893-1900

Pastel and black chalk on brown wove paper laid down on card

179 x 276 mm. 7 x 10 7/8 in.

Framed: Frame: 18 x 21 5/8 x 1 1/4 in.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Elinor Leyland

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Elinor Leyland, 1873

Drypoint in black ink on laid paper

30.90h x 20.40w cm

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, The Guitar Player

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

The Guitar Player, 1874-75

Drypoint in brown ink on off-white laid paper

413 x 303 mm. 16 1/4 x11 7/8 in.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, The Muff


James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

The Muff, 1874

Drypoint in black ink on medium weight laid paper

157 x 100 mm. 6 1/4 x 4 in.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Old Putney Bridge

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Old Putney Bridge, 1879

Etching in brown ink on laid paper, printed with plate tone

202 x 296 mm. 8 x 11 5/8 in.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, The Punt

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

The Punt, 1861

Etching and drypoint on chine collé

275 x 315 mm. 10 7/8 x 12 3/8 in.

Giovanni Boldini, Whistler Asleep upon a Sofa

Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931, Italian)
Whistler Asleep upon a Sofa, 1897


Click here to view the Whistler: A Selection on

Nature contains the elements, in colour and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music.

But the artist is born to pick, and choose, and group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful – as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he bring forth from chaos glorious harmony.

J.A. Whistler, “Ten O’Clock” lecture

James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s innovative compositions and inflammatory artistic proclamations helped establish the doctrine of modern art. Indeed, he famously filed and won a libel suit in 1878 against art critic John Ruskin, who had accused him of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face” when he showed his nearly abstract painting Nocturne In Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket in an 1877 exhibition at London’s Grosvenor Gallery. By the mid-1860’s, Whistler had become a leader of the Aesthetic movement which emphasized the formal elements of art over subject matter.

A prolific artist, Whistler produced over 500 paintings and nearly 700 prints. He particularly embraced the etching medium, which offered him the opportunity for compositional experimentation. He could sketch ideas quickly, then refine and develop them through multiple states and create variations with expressive inking and wiping. He etched en plein air, imbuing his subjects with a sense of spontaneity. The popularity of his prints ushered in an “etching revival” and strongly influenced other heralds of the medium such as Charles Meryon and Francis Seymour Haden. In his early etchings, Whistler was particularly indebted to Rembrandt, whose prints he studied in 1858-9 while staying in London with Haden. Haden’s Old Master collection fascinated Whistler, and the influence of Rembrandt is particularly evident in his 1858 French Set, printed by Delâtre. Throughout his career as a printmaker, Whistler returned to depictions of scenes from everyday life, the use of chiaroscuro and contrast, and the incorporation of doorways and archways as framing devices, all referencing the Dutch master.

In 1878 Whistler began experimenting with lithography under the printer Thomas Way and returned to the medium late in his career. Invented at the end of the 18th century, lithography had become the preferred method of commercial printing. In the mid-19th century artists appropriated the medium for their original work. Whistler’s skill in drawing and pastel applied easily to the transfer method, in which an image is drawn on paper and then transferred to the stone. He especially appreciated the soft, blended, sketch-like quality the greasy lithographic crayon afforded and referred to his lithographs as “songs on stone.”

Whistler’s devotion to overall harmony in his works extended even to his signature. The artist invented a distinctive monogram, a stylized butterfly with an elongated thorax based on his initials, and placed it deliberately as a compositional element, not just a maker’s mark. This is especially evident in the Nude Reclining pastel on view here, in which Whistler’s butterfly, touched by pastel, hovers above the sleeping figure. Whistler even cut down the margins of some prints and left only a small tab with his penciled butterfly, an action often misperceived as having been performed by dealers and collectors. This memorable mark aligned with Whistler’s ambitions to establish his unique public image and reinforced his status as a leader in the artistic movement of the day.  In this exhibition, we are pleased to present a selection of Whistler’s works on paper, highlighting in particular the breadth of his work in printmaking and  his skill in lithography and intaglio mediums.



“James McNeill Whistler.” NGA Systematic Catalogue. National Gallery of Art.

“Whistler as Printmaker: Highlights from the Gertrude Kosovsky Collection.” The Frick Collection.

McPhee, Constance C. “James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) as Etcher.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2015.

Taube, Isabel L. Whistler as Printmaker: His Sources and Influence on His Followers. Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College, 1993.

Weinberg, H. Barbara. “James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903).” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2010.