James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1834-1903, American
Catalogue Raisonne: Way 5; Levy 10 i/ii; Spink, Stratis and Tedeschi 8 i/ii
Inscription: Recto, printed butterfly at l.r.; pencil annotations at l.l. ("O.S.L./O.O.O./D") and l.r. ("x Whistler"); Verso,
stamp "From C.W. Dowdeswell" near c.; collector's stamp of Otto Gerstenberg ("O-G" with victory symbol) and "82 61245" in
pencil at l.l.; annotations in pencil ("W I Nocturne") at c. of lower edge; and Baumfeld's stamp at l.r.
Provenance: H.S. Theobald (L. I/1376); Otto Gerstenberg (L. I/2785); R.E. Lewis, San Francisco; Rudolf L. Baumfeld, Los Angeles
Scope and Content:
Beginning in the early 1870s, Whistler produced a series of Nocturnes depicting the Thames River, which signaled the artist's
transition from more realistic modes of representation to a poetic interpretation of nature influenced by orientalists and
aesthetic sentiments. In Nocturne, one of a group of lithotints of river subjects, the artist used veils of lithographic ink
to create the moody, atmospheric effects achieved in his painted Nocturnes with translucent washes of paint, which he had
been unable to produce in etching or drypoint. Drawing inspiration from Japanese prints, Whistler divided the composition
of Nocturne into two separate zones, separated by a high horizon line. This emphasizes a two-dimensional abstract pattern
and evokes the sensation of atmosphere far more than it describes the subject. The print's composition, tonal variations,
and mood anticipate Whistler's views of Venice, in which the artist would return to the more portable medium of etching, using
tonal printing to produce effects of mood and atmosphere.
Nocturne was one of a group of lithographs intended to be issued in a limited number of proofs. Due to lack of interest, perhaps
an indication of the low status of artistic lithography, only a few impressions of Nocturne, including the present print,
were published in this manner. In 1887 a later impression of Nocturne was included in the set known as Art Notes, published
by Boussod, Valadon, and Company in an edition of one hundred.