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James Whistler (1834-1903), The Venetian Mast, etching, 1879–80, printed in black on laid paper; trimmed to the platemark by the artist, signed with the butterfly and inscribed imp on the tab. Reference: Kennedy 195, sixth (final) state, Glasgow’s (Margaret F. MacDonald, Grischka Petri, Meg Hausberg, and Joanna Meacock, James McNeill Whistler: The Etchings, a catalogue raisonné, University of Glasgow, 2011) 11th state (of 12); Lochnan 185. On laid paper; watermark: Fellows 1804 (Stratis 119). Published as part of the First Venice Set in 1881. In very good condition, archival matting. 13 3/8 x 6 3/8 inches.
Provenance P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London (their stock no. in pencil verso C.28658)
A fine impression, printed with subtle plate tone; with two tiny circles in pencil on the verso.
The tiny circles in pencil verso have conventionally been interpreted as Whistler’s sign of 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’s public relations campaign, allowing certain buyers to think they were getting something extraordinary.” In our experience, while the circles do in fact tend to appear only on very fine and well-printed impressions, there are many great impressions of Whistler prints without the circles.
The extreme verticality of the plate’s format here seems to extend to accommodate the tall mast of the title. It also counterbalances the foreshortening of the row of houses, preventing the viewer’s eye from being drawn into the distance. Instead, all the focus is on the group of figures in the foreground that is more carefully rendered than in many other of the artist’s Venice views.