The Unsafe Tenement


James Abbot McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), The Unsafe Tenement, etching, 1858. [signed in the plate lower right]. References: Kennedy 17. Glasgow 18, fourth state (of four). In very good condition, printed on a very thin (two ply?) Japan paper, with margins, 6 1/8 x 8 3/4, the sheet 8 1/4 x 11, archival mounting.

A brilliant, black impression printed with astonishing clarity and exquisite detailing, on an ivory Japan paper. Presumably this is a proof impression before the relatively large edition published in this state (the edition was not on this paper).

Provenance: Inscribed “To Otto J. Schneider from his friend Frederick Keppel”. Schneider (1875-1946) was an American artist, noted for his realism, influenced by Whistler. Keppel was of course the well-known American dealer, one of whose specialties was Whistler prints. Keppel had a good relationship with Whistler until, as in most of his relationships, Whistler became inordinately troublesome – at which point Keppel wrote Whistler a longish, mocking  poem, with lines such as these: “Like cackling hens or cocks a-crowing Your tireless trumpet keeps a-blowing. ” After this, Keppel wrote “at this point all my intercourse with this extraordinary man came to an end.”

(In the lower right is the ghost of another inscription, now erased, apparently to another friend from Edna (?) Schneider who presumably owned this print after Otto Schneider.)

This is one of Whistler’s very early prints, a portrait of a dilapidated farmhouse in Alsace-Lorraine. In the first state a woman sweeping appears; she was burnished out and replaced by the pitchfork in the second state. In this superb impression the outlines of the woman (her dress, feet) are clearly visible near the bottom of the pitchfork.