Nocturne (The River at Battersea) by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Nocturne (The River at Battersea) by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Nocturne (The River at Battersea)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Title

Nocturne (The River at Battersea)

 
Artist
Year
1878  
Technique
Lithotint, on a prepared half-tint ground, printed chine colle 
Image Size
6 13/16 x 10 3/16" (17.3 x 25.9) image and Japanese paper 
Signature
butterfly in stone, within image, lower right 
Edition Size
Rare proof (aside from the edition of around 100 printed on blue paper) 
Annotations
 
Reference
Art Institute of Chicago 8; Way 5, Levy 11. 
Paper
antique-white Japanese paper collaged to a white wove plate paper. 
State
proof 
Publisher
Boussod, Valadon, and Co. in an edition of 100 published in 'Art Notes' on a blue gray laid paper, printed chine colle. 
Inventory ID
KEFL300 
Price
SOLD
Description

Whistler probably executed his second lithotint, "Nocturne", in the spring of 1878. In 1912 the printer Thomas Robert Way recalled that this lithotint was drawn not at the site, but rather "at one sitting from memory" in the printing offices on Wellington Street. In this early lithograph Whistler worked directly on the stone (rather than using transfer paper), applying washes of ink to achieve striking atmospheric effects. "Nocturne" was printed in an edition of one hundred impressions of and published and issued in a portfolio called 'Notes'.

The image size of the second state was slightly reduced through the masking of the left margin to eliminate most of the pooled washes along this edge. With the exception of a single example in the Cincinnati Art Museum, all known impressions of the second state were printed on a blue laid paper and mounted on white wove plate paper, which has often discolored to ivory.

"Nocturne" was printed by Thomas Robert Way who noted an edition of 100 without distinguishing between the two states and including the published editions. The first printing was published by Whistler for subscribers of 'Art Notes' in 1878/9. The rest of the edition was used in 1887, published by Boussad, Valadon, and Co. for the portfolio 'Notes.' The ink colors and the blue paper will vary in these impressions. This impression appears to be an early proof of the second state, printed chine collé on thin Japanese paper like many of the first state and was probably printed in 1878-79, for "Art Notes," at least before the 1887 edition for "Notes." There is only one other example on a white paper noted, that impression is in the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Whistler and his printer, Thomas Way and Son, pushed the limits of lithography's expressive potential when they developed the lithotint, a method that produces subtle areas of tone by applying a fine aerosol spray of lithographic ink directly on the stone. The atmospheric effects of this haunting image, in which buildings seem to reflect and dissolve in the dusky light, were enhanced by the new technique.

This influential lithotint, ''Nocturne: The River at Battersea'' (1878), was one of his many Thames River studies. Mood is all in this dark rendering, in which a gray fog nearly obscures the outline of a man in a boat and of buildings on the shore. The indefiniteness of the forms and the dreamy veiling of the subject appealed to Tonalist artists and even to American Impressionists like J.H. Twachtman (1853-1902), in whose pallid work the restraining influences of Tonalism played a role.