'The French Set'

Whistler took up etching seriously in London in the spring of 1858. After returning to Paris he made numerous prints in the city and on a journey to the river Rhine. In October 1858 a number of trial proofs were printed on the press of the leading Parisian printer Auguste Delâtre, from which Whistler selected twelve (plus title-page) to be published as Twelve etchings after Nature. They include domestic and genre scenes, studies of friends or their children, and glimpses of shadowy figures in backstreets, alleyways and anonymous interiors. Whistler referred to the series as his 'French Set', although not all the subjects are French. Choice of subjects and treatment reflected Whistler's awareness of modern realist trends in French art.

Title

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.276-1954"]

Etching printed on wove paper, 1858

The Paris edition of 'The French Set' was printed on chine collé paper by Auguste Delâtre and issued in an edition of 20 in early November 1858. The London edition of 50 sets was issued a few weeks later with this title plate printed on the large dark-blue paper wrapper containing the other twelve sheets. The plates were reprinted after being bought by Serjeant Ralph Thomas in 1860. This impression was printed separately.

The image was based on a drawing of Whistler's room-mate and travelling companion Ernest Delannoy sketching in the streets of Cologne. In the etching Whistler made it look more like a self-portrait. The dedicatee, Seymour Haden, witnessed some of the printing of the set, and Whistler used his address when publishing the London edition.

Given by G. J. F. Knowles 1954

P.276-1954

Fumette

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.273-1954"]

Etching printed on Japanese paper, 1858

Like In Full Sun, The Tinker and the two impressions of Mother Gerard this print was made in Paris in the summer of 1858 before Whistler's trip to the Rhine. 'Fumette' was the nickname of the seamstress Héloise, a grisette (a fun-loving Bohemian working girl from the Latin Quarter) who was Whistler's mistress for two years. She posed for several drawings and etchings in 1859 (see A Venus).

This is one of a group of impressions of early plates in the Fitzwilliam (with The Tinker, Mother Gerard, Street at Saverne, The Mustard Seller, Seymour, seated and Vauxhall Bridge) that were apparently printed at the same time on similar Japanese paper, and have remained together since. As one of the plates is dated 1861 ( Vauxhall Bridge), the group was probably not printed before that date, when 'The French Set' was reprinted by Delâtre for Serjeant Thomas

Given by G. J. F. Knowles 1954

P.273-1954


In Full Sun

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.78-1959"]

Etching printed on wove paper, 1858

Made in Paris in the summer of 1858 before Whistler's trip to the Rhine. The identity of the woman with the parasol is not known, but she was presumably no stranger to Whistler. His first biographers tell of at least one trip to the country with friends of both sexes, during which Whistler painted a female companion. The feeling of sunshine and fresh air is in line with the growing tradition of plein air (open air) painting in France; in the same year, the young Claude Monet was encouraged to paint out of doors by the painter Eugène Boudin.

Bequeathed by G. J. F. Knowles 1959

P.78-1959

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The Tinker

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.271-1954"]

Etching printed on Japanese paper, 1858

Made in Paris in the summer of 1858 before Whistler's trip to the Rhine. This tinker, a mender of pots and pans, is typical of the subjects of working women from the lowest levels of society that were popular among realist artists in France. The straight-forward, unidealised treatment matches the choice of subject.

This is one of a group of impressions of early plates in the Fitzwilliam, which were probably not printed before 1861, when the plates of 'The French Set' were reprinted by Delâtre for Serjeant Thomas (see Fumette).

Given by G. J. F. Knowles 1954

P.271-1954



Mother Gerard

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.2073-R"]

Etching printed on wove paper, 1858

Made in Paris in the summer of 1858 before Whistler's trip to the Rhine. This woman from a bourgeois background had fallen on hard times and sold flowers at the door of the bal Bullier, a popular dancehall on the Avenue de l'Observatoire (Whistler also etched one of the dancers from the bal Bullier). Whistler is supposed to have once invited her on a day out to the country with friends. She was also the subject of one of Whistler's first two paintings submitted to the Paris Salon in the following year.

In this trial proof the clothing and shading have not yet been finished; compare the later state below.

Given by G. J. F. Knowles 1921

P.2073-R


Mother Gerard

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.272-1954"]

Etching printed on Japanese paper, 1858

After printing the plate in its earlier state (see above), Whistler altered the cape and the garment in the left hand, and added extra shading. The address of the printer Auguste Delâtre has also been added. This is the final state as published.

This is one of a group of impressions of early plates in the Fitzwilliam, which were probably not printed before 1861, when the plates of 'The French Set' were reprinted by Delâtre for Serjeant Thomas (see Fumette).

Given by G. J. F. Knowles 1954

P.272-1954


The Unsafe Tenement

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.2094-R"]

Etching printed on 'antique' laid paper, 1858

Like Street at Saverne (below) this print was made in Alsace during the outward journey of Whistler's trip to the Rhine in 1858. This print shows the influence of the prints of the Barbizon artist Charles Jacque, which also featured dilapidated half-timbered farmhouses. Jacque in turn was influenced by seventeenth-century Dutch etchings.

The title page and twelve plates that made up 'The French Set' were printed on chine collé paper and issued in Paris in an edition of 20 in early November 1858. The London edition of 50 sets was issued a few weeks later. This impression was printed separately on a fly-leaf torn from an old book.

Given by G. J. F. Knowles 1921

P.2094-R

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Street at Saverne

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.274-1954"]

Etching and drypoint printed on Japanese paper, 1858

Etched on Whistler's trip to the Rhine in 1858, this print was based on a graphite and watercolour drawing made in Saverne, Alsace, and annotated Place St Thomas.

This is one of a group of impressions of early plates in the Fitzwilliam that were probably printed at the same time on similar thick Japanese paper, and have remained together since. One of the other plates ( Vauxhall Bridge) is dated 1861, so the group was probably not printed before that date, when 'The French Set' was reprinted by Delâtre for Serjeant Thomas's exhibition. The varied wiping of the plate to create pools of shadow and highlight is typical of Delâtre's 'artistic printing'. He also printed this plate on blue paper.

Given by G. J. F. Knowles 1954

P.274-1954

The Old Rag Gatherer

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.2085-R"]

Etching printed on Japanese paper, 1858

Like The Rag Gatherers (below) this print was made after Whistler's return to Paris from the Rhine, and drawn on the plates from life. The subject had appeared previously in etchings by Barbizon artists Jean-François Millet and Charles Jacque.

This impression is printed on paper that was probably prepared with an overall tone of ink before printing the plate (it may have been printed at the same time as The Kitchen, which has a similar effect). This darkens the margins and the overall tonality of the print, reducing the contrast between shadow and highlight. The effect is similar to printing on coloured paper, which was also tried for some subjects in the set.

Given by Mrs T. H. Riches 1923

P.2085-R


The Rag Gatherers

Image["Object Number P.2086-R"]

Etching and drypoint printed on old wove paper, 1858/61

Not included as part of the published 'French Set', but drawn on the plate direct from life at the same time as The Old Rag Gatherer (above). Originally the room was empty of figures, and Whistler called the plate Quartier Mouffetard after the district in the Latin Quarter of Paris. It was only in 1861 that he added the figures, reportedly at the suggestion of Serjeant Thomas, who had bought the plates of 'The French Set' and had them printed at the same time as Whistler's early Thames etchings in 1861. This impression is printed on a fly-leaf torn from an old book. It bears the inscription in graphite 18/2/62, which may have been the date of printing or purchase ( Reading in Bed has the same inscription).

Given by Mrs T. H. Riches 1923

P.2086-R



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The Mustard Seller

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.2074-R"]

Etching printed on Japanese paper, 1858

The plates for this print and The Kitchen (below) were made after Whistler's return to Paris from the Rhine, but the subjects were based on earlier drawings, in this case a study drawn in Cologne and annotated 'Marchand de Potions'. This print was one of two etchings by Whistler accepted for exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1859, even though the two paintings he submitted that year were refused.

This is one of a group of impressions of early plates in the Fitzwilliam, which were probably not printed before 1861, when the plates of 'The French Set' were reprinted by Delâtre for Serjeant Thomas (see Fumette).

Given by G. J. F. Knowles 1921

P.2074-R


The Kitchen

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.2078-R"]

Etching printed on Japanese paper, 1858

Based on a watercolour made at Lutzelbourg in Alsace, on the way to the Rhine, but etched after Whistler's return to Paris.

Like The Old Rag Gatherer, this impression is printed on paper which was probably prepared with an overall tone of ink before printing the plate (the paper is more yellow than that used for 'The Old Rag Gatherer'). It is inscribed in graphite Fine proof from Thomas, suggesting that it was one of the impressions printed by Delâtre for Serjeant Thomas after he had bought the plates of 'The French Set' in 1860. It is printed with a sumptuous amount of surface tone left on the plate to create shadows, a hallmark of Delâtre's printing methods. The inscription appears to be in the hand of Thomas Nelson MacLean, the sculptor whose prints came to the Fitzwilliam in a gift from his widow Katharine Anne Riches.

Given by Mrs T. H. Riches 1923

P.2078-R

Annie

from 'The French Set'

Image["Object Number P.2071-R"]

Etching printed on Japanese paper, 1857-8

One of the earliest etchings included in 'The French Set', featuring Whistler's nine-year old niece, the daughter of his half-sister Deborah and her husband, the surgeon, etcher and collector Seymour Haden (1818-1910).

It was actually Haden who sketched the few lines outlining the lower legs on the plate as he did not approve of the way Whistler had finished the figure at the knees. After he fell out with Haden, Whistler annotated an impression of this print: 'Legs not by me, but a fatuous addition by a general practitioner.'

Given by Mrs T. H. Riches 1923

P.2071-R



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The Fitzwilliam Museum : The French Set 1857-61

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