Early Morning by James Abbot McNeill Whistler (1834–1903). 1878. Lithotint, printed in black ink on off-white wove paper, 10 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches (26.5 x 19.1 cm). This a proof in the first state (of four); T. R. Way listed about twelve impressions in this state. nce: Frank Gair Macomber. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by Gordon Cooke

The Battersea shore depicted in Nocturne was also the subject of Early Morning, seen at first light. The medium of lithography was ideal for the subtleties of these images. However it appears that the printed versions were no more successful in stimulating an understanding and acceptance of Whistler’s new work than his paintings.

The artist’s etchings of the Thames, published in 1871, had met with a favourable critical reaction, but they had been done over a decade earlier and their meticulous detail and draughtsmanship were easier for the public to appreciate than the exquisite but vacant and transparent compositions which even a sophisticated critic such as Ruskin, who worshipped Turner’s painting, could not bring himself to admire. There had also been a resurgence of interest in etching, encouraged by critics such as P.G. Hamerton. No such support existed for lithography, so the failure of Whistler’s new prints to attract a following is perhaps not surprising.

Way recorded only twelve proofs in this first state, and two or three in the second: in the later states the effect was further lightened. It was intended that the print would be published in Piccadilly: Town and Country Life, a weekly magazine which was struggling to establish an audience, edited by Whistler’s friend Theodore Watts-Dunton. The inclusion of Whistler prints was designed to encourage subscribers. However the venture failed before the week before the issue which was to have had Early Morning was to be published. The edition had already been printed, but these impressions, in the third and fourth states, carried the legend of the defunct magazine: Supplement to Piccadilly July 18th 1878 above and Imp T. Way Lond below. Fifty were selected from the edition and the rest destroyed. In most cases the legend was trimmed off and these impressions have narrow margins.

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Stratis, Harriet K., and Martha Tedeschi, Eds. The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler. Chicago, 1998, pp.63–66, no.8.

Whistler on the Thames. London: The Fine Art Society, 2013. No. 11, pp. 36-37.

drawings by Whistler

Last modified 22 May 2014