Nocturne Palaces



James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 Lowell, Massachusetts – London 1903), Nocturne: Palaces 1879–80, etching and drypoint printed in dark brown on off-white laid paper; 298 x 201 mm (11 3/4 x 7 7/8 inches), trimmed by the artist just outside the platemark all round; signed in pencil with the butterfly and inscribed imp on the tab; Kennedy 202 before first state (of eight); Glasgow 200 intermediary state between the first and the second (of twelve)

watermark: crowned shield with hunting horn and pendant letters wp


Frederick Keppel & Co., New York (their stock no. in pencil on the verso a10068)

Mrs. John D. Rockefeller

Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III

Dr. and Mrs. James W. Nelson

Linda Papaharis, New York

Samuel Josefowitz, Pully, Switzerland (acquired in 1988)

A superb impression with carefully modulated tonal wiping; with substantial burr from the drypoint work especially towards the top and bottom of the composition, in impeccable condition.

Before the row of small vertical strokes in the water immediately below the wall of the left palace, to the left of the patch indicating the doorway’s reflection. Those strokes are already visible in Kennedy’s first state but not yet in the second state described in the Glasgow catalogue. However, Glasgow’s second state does show a vertical band of short horizontal lines along the left edge of the shadow cast on the water by the bridge. These horizontal strokes are clearly missing in our impression, making it therefore an intermediary state between Glasgow’s first and second states.

The unique first state in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is annotated by the artist “1st state 1st proof”; while the composition is basically finished, it lacks any of the tonal wiping characteristic for this print and was never trimmed to the platemark. Apart from this unique “proof,” the present sheet can therefore be considered as the earliest known impression pulled from the “finished” plate.  We believe this is the only recorded impression of this new “second” state.

Each impression of Nocturne: Palaces is different from the others, in effect a monotype, expressing different times of night or day, temperatures, effects of light. Margaret MacDonald in her classic Palaces in the Night: Whistler in Venice amplifies:  “Nocturne: Palaces was a daring plate: difficult to print, relying heavily on the quality of the ephemeral drypoint lines…in the best impressions it is the inking of the plate that coordinates and unifies the widely dispersed lines of shading. The linear pattern of marks is unusual and the inking makes each print unique.”