The Beggars



James Whistler (1834-1903), The Beggars, etching and drypoint, 1879-80, signed with the butterfly and inscribed “imp”. Reference:  Glasgow 190, seventh state (of 17),  Kennedy 194, fourth state (of 9), from the First Venice Set. In excellent condition (tiny nick bottom margin; remains of hinges verso), with margins, 12 1/8 x 8 1/4 inches, the sheet 13 x 9 1/4 inches.

An exceedingly fine impression, printed on sturdy laid paper, with a Strasbourg Lily with a W watermark. With substantial plate tone especially towards the bottom of the composition, wiped carefully to highlight the figures at the end of the tunnel, and the figures in the forefront.

In this early impression Whistler has moved the lantern from the far left toward the middle of the composition; he has also configured the two figures in the foreground as an older woman and a young girl, and added shading to the butterfly at the upper left (but in the next state, he would burnish out the butterfly).

Whistler printed proofs of The Beggars both in Venice and London. He delivered five impressions to the Fine Art Society on 16 February 1881, thirteen on 6 April, four on 25 August, and six on 31 December.  These would have been impressions of the first seven states – mostly signed in the margin with the large butterfly with shaded wings (cf. Glasgow).  Our example is clearly one of these early impressions. The Fine Art Society begged Whistler to print the additional promised impressions over the succeeding years, up to about 1894 when the bulk of the edition was printed, in the last state.