The Velvet Dress


James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), The Velvet Dress, drypoint, 1873, printed in black ink on japan paper, signed with the butterfly on the tab [also signed with the butterfly in the plate].  Kennedy 105, fourth state (of 5). Trimmed on the plate mark by the artist, 9 1/8 x 6 1/8 inches.

A fine delicately printed impression of this rare print, known in only about two dozen impressions, only two of which are signed in pencil.This is one of the first prints in which Whistler used the butterfly monogram.

Whistler made three drypoints of Mrs. Francis Leyland; The Velvet Dress is the most successful of these. Susan Grace Galassi devotes a chapter to Francis Leyland in the catalogue of the exhibit Whistler, Women and Fashion, shown at the Frick Collection in 2003.  Apparently after Mrs. Leyland saw a model in a velvet dress she told Whistler she wanted to be painted in a similar dress, and perhaps to appease her Whistler made this beautiful spare drypoint of Mrs. Leyland standing in profile, in a full gown.

In this fourth state impression Whistler has straightened Mrs. Leyland’s hair a bit, added some background lines; in a fifth state (we know of only one example, in the Smithsonian Freer collection) he strenghthened the drypoint substantially.