Los Angeles

“Whistler Prints”

Long Beach Art Museum

Forty-five prints were selected for this American Federation of Arts Exhibition by A. Hyatt Mayor, Curator of Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, from the William P. Chapman, Jr. Collection of Whistler prints at Cor­nell University.

This American expatriate, who ad­vanced the expression “art for art’s sake,” is probably as well known for his prints as for his paintings. He worked in several print media-lithography, etching, and drypoint—exploiting the particular virtues of each, to depict the scenes of his chosen London.

Etching came first. Several examples from the 1859 series “Views of the Thames” show a tight style of drafts­manship, with regularly drawn lines de­fining form. It is as if Whistler saw in etching only a means of reproducing drawings. But the suggestion of his sure draftsmanship and ability to ar­range elements of the composition to achieve the most successful interwork­ing of parts, is there. Even these early plates were hand-wiped in such a way as to leave a thin film of ink to print a gray tone on the paper, an aspect of Whistler’s work as characteristic as his butterfly signature. An 1880 group of etchings entitled simply “Twelve Etch­ings” shows Whistler using the medium for its own sake, not to reproduce draw­ings. Technically, the etching line is freer and more energetic; compositional elements are merely suggested with the briefest flick of the etching needle, whereas in the beginning they were painstakingly rendered.

Whistler’s lithographs date from 1878 in the exhibition. His explorations of the medium yielded an almost infinite range of delicate grays, within the pure crayon technique he seemed to favor. To give the prints greater delicacy Whistler frequently printed the black and white lithographs in gray ink. Some­times the lithographs were printed on Chine collé paper (a square of thin, pale gray paper glued to a heavier sheet of white paper), probably to suggest the effect of the hand-wiped etching plate.

A few drypoints complete this well­ chosen sampling of Whistler’s prints. One drypoint, Child on Couch, is one of four known impressions.

It seems a shame that Whistler prints are no longer fashionable, for they are technically among the most sophisti­cated and visually among the most beautiful ever produced.

Virginia Allen