Whistler - Pierrot (kennedy 407)

Pierrot,  1889, etching, printed in brown on fine laid paper; trimmed to the platemark by the artist, signed with the butterfly and inscribed
imp on the tab; Kennedy 407, fourth state (of five); Glasgow 450, sixth state (of eight) (cf. Margaret F. MacDonald, Grischka Petri, Meg Hausberg, and Joanna Meacock, James McNeill Whistler: The Etchings, a catalogue raisonné, University of Glasgow, 2011); Lochnan 408, 9 x 6 1/4 inches.

Royal Library, Windsor Castle
P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London (their stock no. verso C.21356)

A very fine, evenly balanced impression, printing with subtle plate tone.  This state is before the left to right diagonal lines were added to the lower beam above the right window, in addition to a few other minor changes.

The Colnaghi label (appended to the mat) is annotated in pen and ink as follows: “From the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. Proof given by the artist to Queen Victoria + specially marked on the back by him o.o.” The mark refers to two pencil circles on the verso of the sheet, a sign that has often been interpreted as Whistler’s method of marking a choice impression. However, as Ruth Fine has pointed out, “no document has been located which verifies this. .. If these annotations were a Whistlerian designation of quality, they were probably one more aspect of the artist’spublic relations campaign, allowing certain buyers to think they were getting something extraordinary.”

Whistler had a high opinion of his own work, and to make certain that it found a proper home, he sent particularly fine proofs to the Royal Librarian at Windsor Castle, Richard H. Holmes, who in turn purchased them for Queen Victoria. This collection was sold in 1906.

Apparently Whistler regarded Pierrot as his favorite among the Amsterdam plates. In a letter to Whistler Howard Mansfield, the famed collector, wrote:  “The impression you showed me of “Pierrot” is so fine – finer decidedly than the one I have – that I feel that I must have it. The fact that it is your favorite among the Amsterdam plates makes me wish to possess it in its greatest beauty.”

The scene shows dyers on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal in Amsterdam and was, according to Mansfield, Whistler’s favorite among
the Amsterdam plates. The clearly defined face of the single sitter is derived from the early realism of Tbe Lime-
Burner. As in the other Amsterdam views, the dark, tonal areas are no longer created by selective wiping but rather by dense networks of overlapping lines.