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Whistler's Greatest Etchings: The 1889 Amsterdam Set at the Freer Gallery of Art

June 28, 2003 to February 1, 2004


Best known for his oil paintings, James McNeill Whistler (1834 - 1903) was also a master printmaker. Whistler drew more than 500 prints during his lifetime, including the 11 unusually elaborate etchings often referred to as his "Amsterdam Set." Combining the detail and realism of the prints he completed in Paris and London in 1858 - 1861 with the looser and more subjective style of the prints he drew in Venice in 1879 - 1880, the prints Whistler made in Amsterdam in late 1889 are generally considered to be his greatest accomplishment as a printmaker.

Fourteen impressions of these famous prints, together with masterpieces from earlier periods in Whistler's career as a printmaker, will be on view from June 28 to Feb. 1, 2004 at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art in "Whistler's Greatest Etchings: The 1889 Amsterdam Set."

Charles Lang Freer (1854 - 1919) purchased 11 impressions of the Amsterdam prints directly from Whistler in the spring of 1890. "The Freer's impressions of these rare prints are unsurpassed," says curator Kenneth Myers. Major works from earlier stages of Whistler's career as a printmaker-and from trips he took to Holland in 1863 and the early 1880s-are included so that visitors can see how the complexities of the Amsterdam prints grew out of Whistler's earlier experiments with line and form.

As a young artist in Paris in the late 1850s, Whistler was heavily influenced by Dutch art, but did not visit Amsterdam until 1863. An admirer of his brother-in-law Seymour Haden's fine collection of Rembrandt prints, Whistler made regular visits to Haarlem, Amsterdam and Dordrecht in the 1880s, but it was only in 1889 that he remained in Holland long enough to produce a major body of work.

Whistler began to print the Amsterdam plates in late 1889 or early 1890, but soon discovered that his exceptionally intricate and delicate line work wore down under pressure of his printing press. Unwilling to produce inferior impressions of these complex works, Whistler abandoned the Amsterdam plates after printing no more than 30 impressions of any of them.

Objects on view include:


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