THE “ADAM AND EVE”, OLD CHELSEA

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
THE “ADAM AND EVE”, OLD CHELSEA
Etching
1879

An original James Abbott McNeill Whistler Etching.

1879

Original etching and drypoint printed in black ink on antique laid paper bearing a “Small Bunch of Grapes” watermark.

Signed in the plate with the artist’s butterfly monogram above the church tower upper center.

A strong, dark and richly printed impression of Glasgow’s third state of three, Kennedy’s second and final state, printed after the addition of the butterfly to the plate, with a consistent plate tone throughout, there are 92 known impressions from this plate. Published by Messrs. Hogarth and Son, London, 1879.

Catalog: Kennedy 175 ii/ii; Glasgow 182 iii/iii; Grolier Club 145; Mansfield 172; Wedmore 144.

Platemark: 6 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches Sheet size: 10 5/16 x 17 3/8 inches

This etching of the riverside houses along the Thames at Chelsea is named for the old Adam and Eve inn which was demolished to make way for Chelsea Embankment. The tower in the left background belongs to old Chelsea Church, where Whistler’s funeral services were held.

This study is one of the finest of the group of Thames studies that Whistler made in 1879 when his financial position was at its worst. Having fallen out with his patron Frederick Leyland over Whistler’s decoration of the “Peacock Room” at the Leyland estate, and been left without payment of more than £2,000, and with only a moral victory in his libel case against the controversial art critic John Ruskin (Whistler was awarded damages of only one farthing), he was inundated with debts and dunned constantly by his creditors. In an effort to make some money he turned to Thames subjects for some etchings, knowing that his earlier studies had sold so well.

“The ‘Adam & Eve,’ Old Chelsea” clearly shows the development of Whistler’s style at the end of the 1870’s. Both the Pennells and Campbell Dodgson single out this print as marking a clear transition in the artist’s etching style from the earlier plates of the Thames to the later ones of Venice. The emphasis on detail in the early plates such as in the “French Set” or the early plates of the “Thames Set” has been modified to give an ever increasing concentration on the rendering of light and on the sense of “visual impression” which will become the central motif by the time of the Venice compositions. In this etching the composition is already dependent on the interplay of shadow over the surfaces rather than on the overall forms. The feeling of the grey flickering light makes this one of the most appealing of Whistler’s middle period Thames compositions.

The plate was issued by Messrs. Hogarth & Son at six guineas an impression; however, impressions from the published edition are often unclear. The crisp clarity of this fine impression would indicate that it is likely to have been printed by Whistler himself, rather than by Hogarth’s printers.

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