The “Adam and Eve” Old Chelsea

James Whistler (1834-1903), The “Adam and Eve” Old Chelsea, etching and drypoint, 1878 [with the butterfly initial in the plate, in the sky left]. References: Glasgow 182, third state (of 3), Kennedy 175, third state (of 3). In very good condition, printed on a thin laid paper with full margins, 7 x 11 15/16 x 8 3/4 x 13 7/8 inches.

A fine impression, with touches of burr from the drypoint work especially on the boats and sails at the left, the crumbling porch of the Adam and Eve, and elsewhere.  Many impressions in the edition were not printed with the detailing clear; this impression displays the details vividly (perhaps in some part thanks to the very thin paper used for this impression).

The “Adam and Eve” was etched in 1878, and published by Hogarth and Son, London, 1879.

Provenance: letters VAT and G in pencil verso (not in Lugt)

Whistler here depicts the Chelsea bank of the Thames, at low tide. The Adam and Eve was a tavern (one can read the words “Wine and Spirit Estab” just under the sign of the tavern in the etching), demolished in 1872.  According to Katharine Lochnan (The Etchings of James McNeill Whistler) the etching was based on a photograph by James Hedderly.  The etching is a close (but reversed) reconstruction of the photo (see figure 215, Lochnan).

Lochnan argues that in the “Adam and Eve” Whistler is not focused so much on the physical structure of the composition as on feelings of light and atmosphere, and on oriental principles of balance and placement; thus this print was important as a prelude to the Venice set rather than a replication of the perspective of the 1859 Thames etchings.