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James Abbott McNeill Whistler

1834 - 1903

The Unsafe Tenement by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

The Unsafe Tenement   1858

  Original etching.
Signed in the plate.
Ref: Kennedy 17 iv/iv
S 185 x 281 mm; P & I 157 x 227 mm
Beautiful impression printed in brownish-black ink on antique laid French paper taken from an antique book or ledger. The sheet carries an inscription "26" in "antique" script at one outer corner.

Clearly a lifetime impression printed at the time of the first printings. The edition printed in the fourth state of the plate was largely on Japan paper and the remainder of the edition was on a thin laid paper, quite different in nature to the antique paper used for this impression. Paper of this type was much sought after by fine printmakers due to the way in which it takes up the ink. This particular example can be identified as a very early impression in the completed state of the plate as faint traces of the dress and feet of the woman sweeping, who had been burnished out after the first state, are still visible near the base of the pitchfork which replaced her in the second state. Also visible are traces of the Delâtre inscription (not normally found on fourth state impressions) and the burr to the small group of drypoint lines at the lower righthand corner is rich and fresh.

Issued by Delâtre and Whistler in late 1858, this etching was included in Whistler’s first published series of etchings, widely known as The French Set, under the title Douze Eaux-Fortes d’après Nature (Twelve Etchings from Nature). These etchings were made mostly during a journey to Alsace and Germany in the company of the painter Ernest Delannoy in 1858. For many years it was thought that they were drawn directly onto the plates, as Whistler is known to have carried his etching tools with him in his pocket. However, recent research has shown that many pencil sketches exist for certain of these works, suggesting that some may have been worked up into finished etchings upon his return to Paris. The resulting series of prints was released first in Paris in late 1858 and in London soon afterwards. The building depicted is a farmhouse in Alsace-Lorraine. This particular work is widely believed to have been the inspiration for the young Graham Sutherland's etching entitled "Number Forty-Nine" which depicts a somewhat similar, dilapidated farm building.

On antique laid French paper with full margins. Very fine condition.