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ceive beautiful character and exquisite line in Humanity
— that, certainly, just as much as quaintness and charm
in the wharves and warehouses of the Port, in the shabby
elegance of the side canals of Venice, in the engaging
homeliness of little Chelsea shop-fronts. The almost

unknown etching of his mother — one of the most



refined performances of his career, as excjuisite, in its
own way, as the famous painting which is displayed at
the Luxembourg — proves his possession of the quahty
which permitted Rembrandt to draw with the reticence
of a convincing pathos his most impressive portraits of
the aged — the Lutma^ the Clement de Jonghe, the Mere
de Rembrandt, an voile noir.

Again, the Fanny Leyland, and The Muff\ and many
another print that I could name, attest IVIr Whistler^s
solution of a problem which presents itself engagingly,
attractively, to the ingenious, and uselessly to the in-
competent — the problem of seeing beauty in modern
dress, and grace in the modern figure. Whistler, no
more than Degas, Sargent, or J. J. Shannon, sighs for
the artificial dignity of the fashions of other times.
Even at moments when modern P^ashion is not in truth
at its prettiest, he is able to descry a piquancy in the
contemporary hat, and to find a grace in the flutter of
flounce and frill. What else after all should we expect
from an artist the sweep of whose brush would give
distinction to the Chelsea Workhouse, or to the St.
George's Union Infirmary in the Fulham Road, and for
whom, under the veil of night or dusk, the chimney
of the Swan Urcwery would wear an as))ect not less
beautiful than King's College Chaj)el .^ It has been
given to the master of Etching to see everyday things
with a poetic eye.

" Take care of the extremities," said old Couture, to a

painter who addressed himself to the figure : " take care

of the extremities, for all the life is there.'' IJut that,



it may truly be answered, is what Mr. Whistler has
often neglected to do. It may be rejoined, however,
that where he has neglected to doit, somehow " all the
life " has not gone out of his work. And the hand of
the man sitting in the boat, in one of the most desirable
of the early Thames etchings. Black Lion Wharf, and
(to name no other instance) the hands in the painting
of Sarasate of a do/en years ago, are reminders of how
completely it is within Mr. Whistler's power to indicate
the life, the temperament, by " the extremities,"'"' when
it suits his work that he shall do so. And the avoid-
ance, so often commented upon, of this detail here,
and of that detail there, itself reminds us of something
important — nay, perhaps of the central fact which
determines the direction of so much of this great
etcher's labour. It reminds us that whether Mr.
Whistler''s work is record of Nature or not, it has at
all costs to be conclusive evidence of Art. And for
the one as well as for the other, he has had need
to know, not only what to do — a difficult thing
enough, sometimes — but a more difficult thing yet :
what to avoid doing. In other words, selection plays
in his work a part unusually important, and he has
occupied himself increasingly, not with the question of
how to imitate and transcribe, but with the question
how best to imply and to suggest. In nearly all his
periods he is the master of an advanced art, which
gives a curious and a various and a continual pleasure.

And now a word or two on what is matter of busi-
ness to the collector — the business of the acquisition



of Whistler's etchings. Unlike the thousand prints
which, in these later days of "the Revival," are the
inadequate result of the laborious industry of popular
people — and which have served their purpose when,
framed and mounted, they have covered for a while
the wall-paper in every builder's terrace in Bayswater —
works of the individuality, the flexibility, the genius
in fine of Whistler, appeal to the collector of the
highest class and of the finest taste, and, it may be
even, to him alone. They lie already in the portfolio
by the side of Rembrandts and Meryons. It is not
easy to get them ; or, rather, there are some which it
is only difficult, and some which it is impossible, to
possess. Certain of the coppers are known to have
been destroyed ; others, which one cannot always ]iarti-
cularise, are in all })robability destroyed. Then again
there are dry-points, never very robust ; some of them
so delicate, so evanescent, that the plate, should it
exist, would prove to be worth nothing. It has yielded,
perhaps, half-a-dozen impressions, and they have gone
far towards exhausting it. Many ])lates, again, exist,
no doubt, in the late State, or in the undesirable
condition, and some are yet intact, and others, like the
two Venetian series — the " Venice "" and the " Twenty-
Six"" — economically managed from the begiiming, have
yielded a subsUuitiul yet never an extensive array of
such j)ro(jfs as satisfy the eye that is educated.

Publication — if one can (juite cull it so — of Mr.
Whistler's etchings first begun in 1S59, when the

artist had worked seriouslv for only two or three years.



Thirteen etchings, generally called "the French Set,"
were printed then by Delatre in Paris, in very limited
numbers, on the thin Japan or China or on the good
old slightly-ribbed jiajier that the collector loves.
The "Thames Set'' — sixteen in number, and consisting
of the majority of the River pieces executed u\) to
that time — were the next to be offered. But they
appeared, publicly, only in 1871, when, as Mr. Ellis was
good enough to tell me, " Ellis & Green " bought the
})lates and had a hundred sets printed. Their printing
was rather dry, so that it is chiefly by the rare impres-
sions which either Mr. Whistler himself, or Dehttre
it may be, had printed, years before, that these plates
are to be judged. At all events it is these impressions
which represent them most perfectly, though I would
by no means speak with disrespect of the impressions
printed by Mr. Goulding when the Fine Art Society
bought the plates of Mr. Ellis, nor of the subsequent
ones printed (juite of late years, when Mr. Keppel, in
his turn, bought the coppers of the Fine Art Society.

Of the two other recognised sets — the " Venice " of
the Fine Art Society and the " Twenty-Six Etchings "
of the Dowdeswells — it must be said first that neither
has been subjected to the vicissitudes that attended the
earlier plates. The dozen prints in the " Venice " were
first issued by the Fine Art Society in the year 1880 ;
but, as I have said earlier, very few of the fine and
really finished impressions — of the hundred permitted
from each plate — date from as early as that year.

The "Twenty-Six Etchings," issued by the Messrs.



Dowdeswell, were brought out in 1886 ; Mr. ^^'histler
himself printing, with consummate skill, every mortal
copy, and making the most interesting little changes,
repairs, improvements, at the press-side. Of most of
the subjects there were but fifty impressions.

These things are wholly admirable, and mostly —
it is evident — are rare; but the extremest rarity is
-reserv^ed for a few of those many plates which do not
belong to any set at all, and were never formally issued.
Thus Paris, Isle de la Cite — etched from the Galerie
d'Apollon in the Louvi-e — is of unsurpassable rarity ;
and it is singularly interesting as having, though with
a date as early as 1859, very distinct characteristics of
a style of which the wider manifestation came much
later. The First State of the Rag Gatherers is of
gi-eat, though not of quite such extraordinary rarity.
The Kitchen, in the First State, is not exceptionally
rare. It should be had, if possible, in the Second, for,
many years after its first execution, Mr. Whistler took
it up again, and then, and then only, was it that he per-
fected it. In su])tlety of illumination, in that Second
State, it is as fine as any painting of De Hooch's.
WcHtminsier Bridge is very rare and very desirable in
the First State ; in the Second — by which time it has
gone into the regular "Thames Set" or "Sixteen
Etchings" — it has lost all ils delicacy and harmony:
it is hard and dry. 'J'he figure-pieces of the Leyland
period — drv-points, nearly always — are very rare.
l"liey include not oidy a little succession of ])ortraits —

the lovtlv print of Fainii) Lctj/and I have refeiTed



to already — but likewise a succession of studies of ])aid
or of familiar models, of which the Model Resting is
one of the most beautiful. There is Till'ie : a model,
too : likewise of great rarity and charm. Of the larger
etchings, three of the finest are the Putney Bridge, the
Battersea Bridge, and the Large " FooV Beyond this
scale, Etching can hardly safely go. Even this scale
would be a danger to some, though Mr. Wliistler
has managed it. But then, that art of his — like
Rembrandt's own — can " blow on brass " as well as
" breathe through silver." He " breathes through
silver" in the dainty rarities of a later time, the little
Chelsea shop subjects — Old Clothes Shop, Fruit Shop.
Axe there half-a-dozen impressions of them anywhere
in the world .'' And then, the poetic charm of Price''s
Caiulle Works — the easy majesty oi London Bridge!

As to the prices of Whistlers in the open market .''
Well, they increase, unquestionably. Some of the very
greatest rarities, it may be remembered, have never
appeared in the auction-room. There are half-a-
dozen, I suppose, for any one of which, did it appear,
forty or fifty guineas would cheerfully be paid. The
average price, now, of a satisfactory Whistler — to
speak to the collector very roughly, and always with
the difficulty of striking an average at all — the average
dealers price might now be eight guineas. But we
will look at the Catalogues ; premising, as has been pre-
mised already, that there are some rarer things than
any that are there chronicled. The time when Mr.

Heywood sold his AVhistlers was the fortunate time to



buy. A First State of the Rag Gathereis was sold then
for less than two pounds ; a First of the Westminster
Bridge (then called " The Houses of Parliament ''), for
about five pounds ; and many quite desirable things
went for a pound a piece, and some for a few shillings.
In 1892, when there came the sale of Mr. Hutchinson''s
collection, and of Sir William Drake^s, opinion was
miore formed ; yet nothing like the prices that would
be reached to-day were attained then. In j\Ir. Hutchin-
son's collection, the First State of the Marchande de
Moutarde — rare, but not especially rare — went for
£4), 10s. ; the First State of the Kitchen for £8, 15s. ;
the Lime Burners for £6, 10s. ; a trial proof of the
Arthur for i?10, 15s. ; a trial proof of the Whistler for
riP15, 10s. Again, the I Fm?;?/ fetched £12; the First
State of Speke Hall, £'d, 12s. ; the Fanny Leyland,
£\5, 10s. ; From Pickled Herring Stairs, £Q, 6s. ; the
Pidaccs, £8, 15s ; the San Biagio, £7, 10s ; the Gar-
den, £5, 10s. ; the Wool Carders, £8 ; the Little Draw-
bridge, Amsterdam, £9, 15s. ; the Zaandam, £10. At
the Drake Sale — a smaller one, as far as Whistlers were
concenied — ten guineas was given for the Kitclien; £19
for the Foigr. It imist be added that this Forge,
which is in the second published set (the "Thames
series"''' or "Sixteen Etchings,'" call tlu'iii which you
will) is in the cjuality of its difrorcnt impressions more
unecjual than almost any print I know. It varies from
an ineffective ghost to a thing oC huauty. At X^19, let
us hope it was a thing of beauty ; but verv much oftencr

it is an ineffective ghost — desperately over-rated.



Etchers since our "real Classics — William Straus: —
His iiidividitalitij, and obligations to Legros — That
excellent Master — Legros's 7iohility and dignity — His
observation and imagination — Holroyd — The daintiness
of Short — C. J. Watson — Goff, Jlexible and compre-
hensive — The qualities of Cameron — Oliver Hall's
Landscape — The question of prices — Contemporary
Prints generally dear.

Though no very definite commercial values may yet have

been established, in the auction-rooms, for their work,

many living English etchers of a generation later than

that of Whistler and of Seymour Haden have been for

some time now apj^ealing to the collector; and their

prints — sold chiefly perhaps at the " Painter-Etcher's,"

at Mr. Dunthorne's, and at Mr. R. Gutekunst's — are

worthy to be carefully considered. The best of them,

at least, will rank some day as only second to the

classics of their art. Indeed, if the term " the Revival

of Etching"" has any meaning, it is to the best men

of the later generation that it must most apply ; for

" revival "" signifies surely some tolerably wide diffusion

of interest, and is a word that could scarcely be used if

all we were concerned with were the efforts of two or



three isolated men of genius — in France, jVIeryou,
Bracquemond, Jacquemart ; in England, Haden and

No, the collector who addresses himself to the gather-
ing of modern etchings, must go — or may go, fairly —
beyond the limits of the work of the men I have this
instant named. But in going beyond them, very wary
must be his steps. He who is already a serious student
of the older masters — he who by happy instinct, or by
that poor but necessary substitute for it, a steady ap-
plication to the consideration of great models — knows
something of the secrets of Style, and so will not fall a
ready prey to the attractions of the meretricious and
the cheap. But the beginner is in need of my warn-
ing ; and among the work of the younger generation,
the etching that is already popular and celebrated —
more ])articularly the etching that is obviously elabo-
rate and laboured — is as a rule the work he must
eschew. The thing of course to aim at, is to acquire
gradually such "eye"" and knowledge as will enable
him to pounce with safety here and there u})on
unknown work ; but at first it is well perhaps that
in his travels beyond the territory of the admittedly
great, he shall not wander too fur. I will give him
the names of a i'cw artists, whom the connoisseur
begins to appreciate, — men of whose methods it will
be interesting, and need not be extravagant, to possess
a few examples.

Of any such men, here with us in I-'ngland — save

indeed Lcgi'os, whose claims to highest place I bold to



be yet more incontestable — William Strang is the one

who has been known the longest, though the number

of his yeai-s may still permit him, ere he pass from us,

to double the already formidable volume of his work.

Strang has etched in the right methods, and no one

knows much better than he does, the technique of the

craft ; and, then, moreover, though he paints from

time to time a little, it is Etching — and all of it

original Etching— that is the occupation of his life.

And within less than twenty years Mr. Strang has

wrought— well, say between two hundred and fifty and

three hundred plates. It is no good giving the precise

number, for before this book has lain for a month upon

the reader's shelf the number will have ceased to be

precise. Almost as many kinds of subjects as were

treated by Rembrandt, have been treated — and no one

of them on one or two occasions only — by Mr. William

Strang. He has dealt with religious story — caring

always, like Rembrandt, and like Von Uhde to-day, for

dramatic intensity in the representation of it, rather

than for local colour — he has dealt too with Landscape,

with Portraiture, with grim and sordid aspects of con-

temyjorary life.

The presence of imagination, the absence, almost

complete, of formal beauty, are the very " notes " of

^Ir. Strang's work — that absence is so remarkable

where it would have been least expected, that we are,

it may be, a little too apt to forget that in certain

of his masculine portraiture it does not make itself

felt at all. He has made etchings of handsome men,



and they have remained handsome. He has even made
etchings of men not handsome, and handsome they
have become. But he knows not the pretty woman.
And his landscape is endowed but scantily with the
beauty it cannot entirely miss. Another curious thino-
about Mr. Strang's landscape is, that more even than
that of Legi'os, his first great master, it seems derived
from but a little personal observation and an immense
study of the elder art. Indeed, I am not quite sure
whether, save in the accessories of his figures — such as
the potato-basket of one of his woebegone, limping,
elderly wayfarers — Mr. Strang has ever drawn and
observed anything which had not already fallen within
the observation of the gi-eat original engravers of the
remoter Past. In his dramatic pieces he shows a sense
of simple pathos, as well as of the uncanny and the
weird. In Portraiture ]\Ir. Strang can be effectively
austere and suitably restrained. Occasional failures,
or comparative failures, such as the portraits of Mr.
Thomas Hardy and of the late Sir William Drake, do
perhaps but bring into stronger relief the successes of
the Mr. Sichel and of Ian Strang, and many others
besides. I nmst refrain from naming them. When
Mr. Strang has done so much, and nearly all of it on
a high technical level, it is natural to feel that though
out of them all the general collector of etchings might
rea.sonably be satisfied with the possession of a dozen —
or, peratl venture, six — he would like at least to choose
them for himself. Indeed, there is no "Jjest" to guide
him to — no "worst"' to guaid him against.



Legros has been named as Strang's first master. He
belongs to an older generation, and if I name him here,
between his best-known pupil and some of the younger
men, it is not to minimise his importance, but in part
as a convenient thing, and in part because, with his
long years of English practice, one hesitates to allow
even French birth and a French fii'st education to cause
one to place Legros outside the English School that he
has influenced. Born at Dijon nearly sixty years ago,
Legros has been amongst us since 1863. But it is not
English life — or indeed any life — that has made him
what he is. He might have done his work — most of it
at least but the portraiture — while scarcely wandering
beyond the bounds of a Hammersmith garden. He has
been fed on the Renaissance, and fed on Rembrandt ;
but yet the originality of his mind pierces through the
form it has pleased him to impose on its expression.
He gives to masculine character nobility and dignity ;
or rather, he is impressed immensely by the presence of
these things in his subjects. His etching of Mr. G. F.
Watts is perhaps — taking into account both theme and
treatment — the finest etched portrait that has been
wrought by any one since the very masterpieces of
Rembrandt, nor, honestly speaking, do I know that
it fails to stand comparison even with these.

Like his most prolific and perhaps also his most

original pujiil, who has been spoken of already, Legros

has little sense of womanly beauty ; but the lines of his

landscape — often, as I judge, either an imagined world

or but a faded memory of our own — have refinement



and charm. His art is restful — restful even when it is
weird. A large proportion of his earlier work records
the life of the priesthood. In its visible dignity — as I
have said elsewhere — its true but limited camaraderie^
in its monotony and quietude, in its magnificence of
service and symbol, the life of the priest, and of those
who serve in a great church, has impressed Legros pro-
,-foundly ; and he has etched these men — one now read-
ing a lesson, one waiting now with folded hands, one
meditating, one observant, one offering up the Host,
another, a musician, bending over the Velio or the
double-bass with slow movement of the hand that
holds the bow. Dignity and ignorance, pomp and
power, weariness, senility, decay — none of these things
escape the observation of the first great etcher of the
life of the Church. Communion dans VEglise St. Mklard
and Chantres Espag-noh, when seen in fine " states," are
amazing and admirable technical triumphs, as well as
penetrating studies, the one of religious fervour, the
other of im])ending death. In La Mort ct le Bucheroti
— in either vei-sion of the plate, for there are two —
the imagination of I^egi'os is at its tenderest. Is not
Ulnccndic dramatic, in its large and abstract way ?
Is not La Mort da Vagabond — with the storm like
the storm in " Lear" — the one vcrij large etching that
is not, in its scale, a mistake .'' I know I would not
have it othenvise, though it wants almost a jiortfolio
to itself, or, better, a frame upon the wall. One might
go on indefinitely; l)ut again it is j)referable to send

the remler to the study of the master's long and serious



work — a huiulrecl and sixty-eight pieces there were in
1877, when Thibaudeau & Malassis published their Cata-
logue ; ten years later there were ninety additions to the
list ; and to this day Mr. Legros has not ceased to etch.
Onlv the very first of his prints show any evidence
of technical incompleteness. The very latest — though
no doubt, by this time, his own real message must have
been delivered — the very latest show no symptom of
fatigue or of decay.

Not more than once or twice, I think, in all his long-
career, has Legros published his works in sets, either
naturally connected or artificially brought together.
Charles Holroyd, a distinguished pupil of Legros's, has
twice already published sets — there is his " Icarus "
set, and a little earlier in date, yet in no respect imma-
ture, his " ]\Ionte Oliveto "" set. Holroyd — with indi-
viduality of his own, without a doubt — is yet Legros's
true spiritual child. He has much of his refinement,
of his dignity. Did he love the priesthood from
Leffros"'s etchine-s, before ever he lived with them in
Italy .'* Rome itself, I suppose, gave him the love of
what is visibly Classic — and that is a love which Legros
does not appear to share. His composition is generally
admirable; his sense of beautiful "line"''' most note-
worthy. His trees — stone pine and olive, or the
hund)ler trees of our North — are thus not only indi-
vidual studies, true to Nature sometimes in detail,
always in essentials — but likewise restful and impres-
sive decorations of the space of paper it is his business

to fill. Farm behind Scarborough shows him homely,



simple, and direct. Was it a Roman garden, or
Studley, that suggested The Koiuul Temple ? In the
little plate of the Borghese Gardens — my own private
plate, which I bought from him when the first impres-
sion of it hung at the Painter-Etchers' five or six years
ago — Holroyd consciously abandons much that is wont
to attract (atmospheric effect, for example), but he re-
'tains the thing for which the plate existed — dignified
and expressive rhythm of " line." That justifies it, and
permits it to omit much, and to only exquisitely hint
at the thing it would not actually convey.

We will turn for a few minutes to another contem-
porary who has etched in the right spirit — Mr. Frank
Short. Some people think that Mr. Short has not
quite fulfilled the promise which only a few years ago
he gave, as an original etcher. For myself, I consider
that the fulfilment is, at most, only delayed : not
rendered unlikely. Mr. Short has been for several
years extremely busy in the translation, chiefly into
mezzotint, of pictures and drawings by artists as various
as Turner, Nasmyth, Constable, Dewint, and G. F.
Watt.s. If engi'avings that are not original inventions
are ever worth buying — and that, of course, cannot be
doubted — these translations by Mr. Short are worth
buying, eminently. There is not one of them that fails.
His flexibility is extraordinary. His productions are
exquisite. In a parenthesis, let me advise their j)ar-
chase, when things of the sort are recpiired. But Short
is before us just now only in the caj)acity of an original

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Online LibraryFrederick WedmoreFine prints → online text (page 8 of 16)