Frederick Wedmore.

Fine prints online

. (page 7 of 16)
Online LibraryFrederick WedmoreFine prints → online text (page 7 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

now approaching old age — has seen of late his repu-
tation extending, not only amongst collectors of the
cleverly odious ; and he has shown imagination,
draughtsmanship, a nimble hand, a certain mastery
of process. But in a volume from which I must ex-
clude so much of even wholly creditable Art — a volume
in which the subject of Woodcuts, which of old was
wont to interest, is deliberately ignored — I adopt no
attitude of apology for refusing serious analysis to the
too often morbid talent of Felicien Rops. A portfolio
containing the delightful inventions of Helleu, and the
gi-eat things of Meryon, could have no place for the
record of Rops"" disordered dream. Were I to be occu-
pied with any living Belgian, it would be with one
whose work M. Hymans, the Keeper of the Prints at
Brussels, showed me at the Bibliotheque Royale, this
autumn — ^f. de Witte.



The Revival in England — WkisUer and Haden, Clas-
sics — Haden' s Jirst works — The "Agamemnon" —
Drij - points — Etchings on Zinc — Prices — Whistler s
French Set — His Thames Series — The Leijlaiul
period — The Venetian work — His rarest Dry-
points — Whistlers Prices at the Heywood Sale,
the Hutchinson Sale, and now.

In England, the Revival of Etching, so far as one can

fix its origin at all, seems due, in chief, to the great

practical work of two etchers of individual vision and

exceptional power — Whistler and Seymour Haden.

Much writing on the subject — and some of it, I hope,

not bad — has also scarcely been without its effect. It

has at least roused and sustained some interest in

Etching, amongst the public that reads. It cannot,

fairly, ever have been expected to produce gi-eat artists.

Whistler and Haden are, it is now allowed, amongst

the Classics already. Each has a place that will not be

disturbed. Each is an honoured veteran. The work of

Seymour Haden has been closed long ago. It is years

since he gave his etching-needle to Mr. Keppel of New

York ; saying, with significant gesture, " I shall etch

no more." From the other delightful veteran no such



formal declaration has — so far as I understand — as yet
proceeded. Mr. Whistler may even now surprise us by
a return fi-om Lithography. His lithogi-aphs, which
will be considered more or less in the final chapter of
this book, are indeed admirable and engaging. But
it is by his etchings that iVIr. Whistler's fame will
live. And though he began to etch two score of years
ago, one would be sorry even now to feel it was quite
certain that the last of his etchings had been done.

We will speak of Seymour Haden first. He is the
older of the two, and his practical work is admittedly
over. His etching, though conceived always on fine
lines, has somehow always been much more intelligible
to the large public than Whistler''s. For yeai*s, in
England and America, he has enjoyed something as
near to popular success as sterling work can ever get ;
and in days when I was able to pick up for six shillings,
in Sotheby's auction-rooms, the dry-point of Whistler's
Fanny Leyland — which would now be considered ridicu-
lously cheap at just as many guineas — Seymour Haden's
River in Ireland was selling (when it appeared and
could ])e bought at all) at (juite substantial prices.
His published series of Etchings, with the text by Mon-
sieur ]Jurty, and then the eulogies of Mr. Humerton,
hatl (lone something, and justifiably, towards what is
called "success" — the success of recognition, I mean,
as distinguished from the success of achievement, which
was certainly his besides. And then — in the nick of time
— there had come the Agamemnon^ almost the largest

fine etching one can call to niind ; for, in Ktching,



" important size " often means vulgarity. The Agamem-
non had an immense sale. It was seen about so much,
in the rooms of people who aspired to Taste, that it
became what foolish men call "vulgarised." As if
the multiplication of excellent work — its presence in
many places, instead of only a few — was positively a
nuisance and a disadvantage ! Anyhow, Seymour
Haden hat! already entered into fame.

In 1880, the late Sir William Drake — an intimate
friend who had collected Hatlen and admired him —
issued, through the Macmillans, a descriptive Catalogue
of Haden's etched work. The Catalogue takes note
of a hundred and eighty-five pieces. Scarcely any-
thing, I think, is omitted. Of the substantial work
none bears an earlier date than 1858 ; but fifteen years
before that — when he was a very young man, journey-
ing — Haden h<ul scratched on half-a-dozen little coppei-s
sparse notes of places of interest he had seen in Italy ;
and very long ago now (when Sir Seymour was living
in Hertford Street) he showed me, I remember, the
almost uni(|ue impressions from these practically un-
known little plates. They were impressions upon which
a touch or so with the brush had — if I remember
rightly — a little fortified the dreamy and delicate
sketch which the copper had received. There is neither
nee<l nor disposition to insist too much on the existence
of these plates, or rather upon the fact that once they
were wrought. They scarcely claim to have merit.
IJut the fact that they were wrought shows one thing

a coilectoi- may like to know — it shows that Seymour



Haden"'s interest in Etching- began before the days of
that French Revival in m hich was executed luidoiibtedly
the bulk of his work.

These little prints, then, as far as they went, were in
quite the right spirit. They were jottings, impressions
— had nothing of labour in them. But in the interval
that divides them from the im})ortant and substantive
work of 1858, 1859, 1860, and later years, the artist
must have studied closely, though he was in full prac-
tice, most of that time, as a surgeon. In the interval,
he had lived, so to put it, with Rembrandt ; he had
become familiar with Claude. And though they
influenced, they did not overpower him. By 1864,
there wei-e fifty or sixty prints for M. Burty to chronicle
and eulogise, in the Gazette des Beaux Arts. The
greatly praised She7X' Mill Pond had been done in
1860. Mijttoii Hall — which, unlike Mr. Hamerton, I
prefer to the Sliere — had been wrought one year earlier.
It shows a shady avenue of yew-trees leading to an
old manor-house which receives the full light of the
sun ; and in that print, early as it may seem, there
was already the breadth of treatment which as years
proceeded l)ecame more and more a characteristic of
Seymour Iladen's work. In 1863 came, amongst many
other good things, Battersca Reach, which in the First
State bore on it this inscription of interest: "Old
Chelsea, Seymour ILulen, 186-J, out of Whistler''s
window." To the same year belongs the charming
plate. Whistler .i, Old C/wl.sea. 'Vha tide is out,

the mud is exposed ; on the left is Lindsay Row ; and



hcyoiul, unci to the ri^'lit, Chelsea Old Church and
liattersea Bridge : the picturesc^iie wooden pile-bridge
of that privileged day. It was not till 1870 that
there came the Agamemnon — the Brcdking-up of the
Agamemnon, to give it its full title — a view, in reality,
of the Thames at Greenwich, seen under sunset light,
the hull of the old ship partially swung round by the
tide. This very favourite print exists in a couple
of States. The Second, though less rare, is scarcely
perceptibly less fine than the First. In it a smoking
chinniey, a brig under sail, and two small sailing-boats
— all of them objects in extreme distance — have been
replaced by indications of the sheds of a dockyard. In
the Hey wood Sale, a rich impression of the Agamemnon
— the State not specified, but in all probability a First
—sold for £1, 10s. In the Sir William Drake Sale,
twelve years afterwards — in 1892 — a First State fetched
^7, 7s. ; a Second, M, 15s.

For convenience' sake, I will name a few more
excellent and characteristic works — prints which
have Seymour Haden's most distinguishing qualities
of frankness, directness, and an obvious vigour. His
etchings are deliberately arrested at the stage of the
sketch ; and it is a sketch conceived nobly and executed
with impulse. The tendency of the work, as Time
went on, was, as has been said, towards greater breadth ;
but unless we are to compare only such a print as
Out of Study- Window, say (done in 1859), with only
the most atlmirable Rembrandt-like, Geddes-like dry-
print. Windmill Hill (done in 1877), there is no greatly



marked contrast ; there is no surprise ; there is but a
steady and not unnatural development. I put this
down, in part at least, to the fact that when Seymour
Haden first took up Etching seriously (in 1858, re-
member) he was already middle-aged. He had lived
for years in the most frequent intercourse with dignified
Art ; his view of Nature, and of the way of rendering
her — or of letting her inspire you — was large, and
likely to be large. Yet as Time went on there came
no doubt an increasing love of the sense of spacious-
ness and of potent effect. The work was apt to be
more dramatic and more moving. The hand asked
the opportunity for the fuller exercise of its freedom.

Saicky Abbey, etched in 1873, is an instance of this,
and not alone for its merits is it interesting to men-
tion it, but because, like a certain number of its fellows
amongst that later work, it is etched upon zinc — a
risky substance, which succeeds admirably, when it
succeeds, and when it fails, fails very much. Windmill
Hill — two subjects of that name — Nine Barroio Down,
Wareham Bridge, and the Little Bonthou^e, and again
that Grim Spain which illustrates my " Four Masters
of Etching " are the prints which I should most
choose to possess amongst those of Haden's later
period ; whilst — going back to the jieriod of 1864 and
1865 — Sun,set on the Thami'.s is at the same time a
favourite and strong, and Fenton Hook remarkable for
its draughtsmanship of tree-trunk and stumj). Yet
earlier — for they belong to 1860 and 1859 — there

are the Mytton Hall, wiiicli I have spoken of ah*eadv,



and the Combe Bottom. Covihc Bottom is unsurpassed
for sweetness and spontaneity. And Mytton Hall has
its full share of that priceless element of Style which
is never altogether absent from Sevmour Haden's work.
Again — and most acceptable of all to some of us —
The Water Meadow (which has been circulated very
largely) is, in a perfect impression, to be studied and
enjoyed as a vivacious, happy, synipatlietic transcript
of a sudden rain-storm in the Hampshire lowlands,
where po})lars flourish and grass grows rank. The
collector who can put these things into his folios —
and a little diligence in finding them out, and three
or four guineas for each print, will often enable him
to do so — will have given himself the opportunity of
confirmation in the belief that among modern etchers
of Landscape, amongst modern exponents in the art of
lilack and ^Vhite of an artistic sympathy with pure
and ordinary Nature, Seymour Haden stands easily
first. And to say that, is not to say that he succeeds
equally, or has equally tried to succeed, with por-
traiture or figure-studies. It is not to compare him
— to his advantage or disadvantage — with any other
artist in the matter of the etcher^s peculiar skill and
technical mastery.

The best collection of Seymour Haden''s work that
has ever l)een sold in detail was the collection of Sir
William Drake. In it the First State of A River in
Ireland — of which only twelve impressions had been
taken — fetched ^^49 (Dunthorne) ; and the First State

of Shere Mill Pond, X^35 ; a unique impression of



Battersea RaUzcay Bridge fetched =£'18, 10s, (Deprez) ;
Erith Marshes, First State, £^, 4s. ; Combe Bot-
tom, First State, i?3; Sunset on tlu' Thames, First
State, i?2, 12s. ; and SaxcJey Ahhey, First State,
m, 4s.

^^'^ith the master-etchers of the world — Meryon"'s
equal in some respects, and, in some respects, Rem-
)3randt*s — there stands James ^XTiistler. Connoisseurs
in France and England, in America, Holland, Bavaria,
concede this, now. It was fiercely contested of old
time, and there is not much cause for wonder in
that, for the work of Mr. Whistler is, and has been
from the first almost, so desperately original that the
world could hardly be expecte4 to be reatly to receive it.
And Mr. ^^'histler never by anything approaching to
cheap issue facilitated familiarity with his work. In
1868 Mr. Hamerton wrote of him : " I have been told
that, if appHcation is made to ]\Ir. Whistler for a set of
his etchings'' — the set, it may be said in parenthesis,
was a very small one then — "he may perhaps, if he
chooses to answer the letter, do the a})plicant the
favour to let him have a coj)y for about the price of
a good horse ; but beyond such exce})tional instances
as this, Mr. Whistler's etchings are not in the market."
They have been in the market since, however — every-
body knows — and if in 18G8 a "set" (the Thames Set
or the French Set was meant, presumably) was valued
by Mr. Whistler at the price of a horse, of late years
a single print, such as the Zaandum for instance, has

been valued by Mr. Wniistlcr at the price of a Ilumber



cycle. Even in the days — some sixteen years ago, or
so — when the work of the deho-htful master was least
appreciated, there was an enormous difference in the
j)rice of a print obtained through what are known
as the "regular channels" and its price if obtained
in open competition, imder the hannner at Sotheby's.
Those gi-eat days ! — or days of great opportunities
— when, as I have said before, I became possessed
for six shillings of Fanny LeTjland, and, for hardly
more than six shillings, of the yet rarer dry-point,
Battersea Dawn.

About a dozen years ago, I, with the enthusiasm
of a convert, began a Catalogue of AVhistler's prints,
intending it for my ^wn use. I finished it for
my brother-collectors, and for poor Mr. Thibaudeau,
who refreshed me with money — and a little for Mr.
AVhistler, too, if he was minded to receive my offering.
T'Tie only previously existing Catalogue — that of Mr.
Ralph Thomas — had been published twelve years earlier,
and had meantime become of little service. There were
several reasons for that, but, to justify my own attempt
— which, as in the ciise of Meryon, has been justified
indeed by my brother-collectors"' reception of it — it
will suffice if I mention one. Mr. Thomas, working in
1874, catalogued about eighty etchings. I, finishing
my work in 1886, aitalogued two hundred and four-
teen. Of the additional lunnber only a few are prints
which had been already wrought when Mr. Thomas
wrote, and which had escaped his notice. By far the

gi'eater portion have been etched in more recent years.



And many of them are unkno\vn to the amateur — by
sense of sight at least — even to this day.

Whistler's etchings are so scattered, and so many of
them are, and must ever be, so very rare, that I could
not have done what I did if several diligent collectors,
well placed for the purpose, had not helped me. Mr.
Thibaudeau himself — the erudite dealer — amassed much
information, and placed it at my service. Mr. Samuel
Avery, when Mr. Keppel took me to see him in East
38th Street, in the autumn of 1885, put at my disposal
everything he knew ; and his collection was even then
the worthy rival of what Mr. Howard Mansfield's is
now — the rival, almost, of Seymour Haden's own col-
lection of A\Tiistler's, which yvent to America a few-
years ago : drawn thither by the instrumentality of
a great cheque from Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Mortimer
Menpes — much associated with Whistler at that time,
and who, I suppose, retains the fine collection of
Whistler's he then possessed — took much trouble with
me in the identification of the rare things he owned,
and I had to express my thanks to Mr. Harrett of
Brighton, to the Reverend Stoj)ford Brooke, Mr. Henrv
S. 'ITieobald, and some of the best-known London
dealers — to Mr. Brown of the Fine Art Society, and
.Mr. Walter Dowdeswell, an enthusiast for Whistler, who
furnished me with delightful notes I never published,
on the precise condition of the impressions in my own
set of the "Twenty-Six Etchings." Again, I saw — what
any one may see — such of the Whistler prints jus are

possessed l)y the Biitish Museum Piint-Rooiii. And,



lastly, I had access, more than once, to Mr. Whistler's
own collection ; but that unfortunately was very in-
complete. It consisted chiefly of the later etchings.

It is now about forty years since Wliistler began to
etch ; but his work in Etching has never been continuous
or regular, and though he has done a certain number
of things, some fine, some insignificant, since the ap-
pearance of my Catalogue, of late his work in Etching
appears to have almost ceased. Looking back along
his life, one may say, periods there have been when
he was busy with needle and copper — periods, too,
during which he laid them altogether aside. The first
chronicled, the first completed plate, was done, it
was believed, in 1857 — when he was a young man in
Paris. But he told me there existed, somewhere or
other, in the too safe keeping of public authorities
in America, a plate on which, before he left the public
sei-vice of the States, he neglected to fully engrave that
map or view for the Coast Sui-vey which the author-
ities exjjected of him, but did not neglect to engrave
upon the plate, in truant mood, certain sketches for
his own pleasure. The plate was confiscated. Young
Mr. Whistler was informed that an unwarrantable
thing had been done. He perfectly agreed — he told
the high official — with that observation. In removing
a plate from the hands of its author before he had com-
pleted his pleasure upon it, its author had been treated
unwaiTantably. Just as my Catalogue — a " Study and
a Catalogue," I call it — was going to press, there

anived from New York — sent thence to London by



the courtesy of Mr. Kennedy, its owner — an impression
from the copper I have just spoken of. It is a curi-
osity, and not a work of Ai't — a geographers view of
the coast.

It will be noticed from my little anecdote that, at a
very early period of his life, Mr. Whistler was in the
right, absolutely, and other people in the wi-ong — and
in the right he has remained ever since, and has believed
it, in spite of some intelligent and much unintelligent
criticism. He has been (let the collector be very sure
of this) a law unto himself — has worked in his own way,
at his own hours, on none but his own themes : the re-
sult of it, I dare to think delibei-ately, the preservation
of a freshness which, with artists less true to their art
and their own mission, is apt to suffer and to pass away.
And with it the charm passes. Now Whistler's newest
work — his work of this morning, be it etching or litho-
gi-aph— possesses the interest of freshness, of vivacity,
of a new and beautiful imj^ression of the world, con-
veyetl in individual ways, just as much as did his early
work of nearly forty years ago. When the compara-
tively few people whose artistic sensibilities allow them
to really understand the delicacy of Mr. Whistler's
method, shall but have known it long enough, they will
not Iki found, as some among the not (juite unapprecia-
tive are found to-day, protesting that there is a want
of contiiuiity between the earlier efforts and the later,
and that the vision of pretty and curious detail, and
the firnuiess and daintiness of hand in recording it,

which confessedly distinguished the etchings of France



niul of the Thames below Bridge, are missing to the
later plates or the plates of the middle jieriod — to the
drv-points of what I may term the Leyland period (when
he drew all three Miss I^eylands, their father and
their mother too, and Speke Hall, where they lived),
and to the more recent Venetian etchings. Peccavi!
I have myself, in my time, thought that this continuity
was wanting. I have told Mr. Whistler with exceeding
levity of speech, that when, in the Realms of the Blest,
he desired, on meeting Velascjuez and Rembrandt, not
to disappoint them, he must be provided, for his justi-
fication, with his Thames etchings in their finest states.
It would be a })otent introduction. But I am not
sure that the Venetian portfolios — the "Venice" and
the "Twenty-Six Etchings," which are most of them
Venetian in theme — would not serve Mr. Whistler in
good stead. For — spite of some insignificant things
put out not long after the appearance of my Catalogue,
along indeed, or almost along with some fine ones of
Brussels and Touraine — there is a continuity which the
thorough student of Mr. Whistler's work will recognise.
There is often in the Venetian things — as in the Door-
way of the " Venice," and in The Garden and The
Balcony of the " Twenty-Six Etchings " — an advance
in the impression produced, a greater variety and flexi-
bility of method, a more delightful and dexterous
effacing of the means used to bring about the effect.

The Venetian etchings — some people thought at first
they were not satisfactory because they did not record

that Venice which the University-Extension-educated



tourist, with his guide-book and his volumes of Ruskin,
goes out from England to see. But I doubt if Mr.
Whistler troubled himself about the guides or read the
sacred books of jNIr. Ruskin with becoming attention.
INIr. Ruskin had seen Venice nobly, Avith great imagina-
tion; ^Ir. Fergusson and a score of admirable archi-
tects had seen it learnedly ; but Mr. AMiistler would
^ee it for himself — that is to say, he would see in his
own way the Present, and would see it quite as certainly
as the Past. The architecture of Venice had impressed
folk so deeply that it was not easy in a moment to
realise that here was a gi'eat draughtsman — a man
too of poetic vision — whose work it had not been
allowed to dominate. The Past and its record were
not WTiistler's affair in Venice. For him, the lines
of the steam-boat, the lines of the fishing-tackle, the
shatlow under the squalid archway, the wayward vine
of the garden, had been as fascinating, as engaging,
as worthy of chronicle, as the domes of St. Mark's.

Yet we had not properly understood Mr. WTiistler's
work in England, if we supposed it could be otherwise.
From associations of Literature and History this artist
from the first had cut himself adrift. His sul)ject was
what he saw, or what he decided to see, and not any-
thing that he had heard ul)out it. He hiul dispensed
from the l)eginning with those aids to the ])rovocation
of interest which aj)peal most strongly to the world —
to the {)erson of sentiment, to the literary lady, to the
man in the street. ^Ve were to be interested — it" we

were interested at all — in the liappv accidents of line

113 ' H


aiul light he had jjcrceived, in liis dexterous record, in
liis knowing adaptation.

I must be allowed to say, however — and it is useful
to the collector that I should say it plainly — that there
was some justification (much more than Mr. Whistler,
I suppose, would allow) for those of us who did not bow
the knee too readily before the Venetian prints. In
the States in which they were first exhibited, there was,
with all their merits, something ragged and disjointed
about several of them. Mr. Whistler worked more
upon them later, adding never of course merely finicky
detail, but refinement, suavity. Of these particular
plates, the collector should remember, it is not the
earlier impressions that are the ones to be desired.
It is, rather, the later impressions, when the plate was,
first, perfected — then even, if need arose through any
wear in tirage, suitably refreshed.

To return for a moment to Whistlerian character-
istics. Though the value of many of his etchings, as
]Mr. AVhistler might himself tell us, consists in the
exquisiteness of their execution and of their aiTange-
ment of line, it would be unfair not to acknowledge
that amongst the many things it has been given to
!Mr. AVhistler to perceive, it has been given him to per-

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryFrederick WedmoreFine prints → online text (page 7 of 16)