For Museum Visitors
Over 100 American cultural institutions across 35 states include artwork by James McNeill Whistler in their collections. Those public collections, their locations, and the range of their holding are identified in Visit the Artwork.
Many of these museums and galleries contain Whistler works on paper: etchings, drawings, watercolors, pastels and lithographs. The vast majority of those works on paper are etchings, and this section of the website includes background information on Whistler’s etchings, and examples of Whistler’s work in this medium. The page also includes links to three short animations about Whistler’s etchings.
Links to other resources are also noted on this page.
James McNeill Whistler is considered is one of the finest and most revolutionary printmakers of the 19th-Century. He etched at four distinct periods in his life, and in each period he applied the advancements he had made in painting and in his prior etchings to the current work.
Whistler arrived in Paris at a time of renaissance in etching, having recently learned to etch in Washington, D.C. He began a series of etchings of contemporary French life, which were were published as the “Twelve Etchings from Nature”. The French Set established Whistler as a professional artist.
Whistler’s second print set, A Series of Sixteen Etchings of the Thames, known as the Thames Set, chronicled an era that saw the industrialization of London. Charles Baudelaire described them as “creating the profound and complex poetry of a vast city.”
In September 1879, his career in ruins after his bankruptcy, Whistler received a commission from London’s Fine Art Society to create a series of twelve etchings of Venice. He returned to London with more than 50 etchings, drawn in a style unlike anything seen before.
Whistler considered the etchings executed for the Amsterdam Set “[t]he best work he had ever given to the public,” a synthesis of the lessons he had learned in the creation of the prints he had made of both London’s river Thames and the city of Venice. Whistler saw them as the grand finale of an illustrious etching career.