Eye Candy for Today: Whistler's Weary
// lines and colors
Weary, James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Link is to zoomable version on Google Art Project; there is also a downloadable version on Wikimedia Commons; the original is in the collection of the Freer/Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Museums, DC.
Drypoint, third state of six, roughly 8 x 5″ (19 x 13 cm).
This is one of James Whistler's most famous etchings.
A master etcher, Whistler here used the process of drypoint to portray his lover and frequent model Joanna Hiffernan in a moment of repose.
Drypoint is a printmaking technique similar to etching that involves scratching lines directly into the plate rather then scratching away a lines in a resist that is then carved by immersion in acid. Drypoint leaves an even softer line than etching, and Whistler's flurry of soft lines give the modeling of the face and hair beautifully soft edges, the printmaking equivalent of a painter's sfumato technique.
The hatching across the face looks a bit odd in magnified view, but when viewed at normal size resolves into delicate modeling of the facial features.
Despite the obvious attention devoted to the face and upper body, the rest of the composition feels almost casual; the right hand just seems to dissolve into he gesturally indicated folds of the dress, and Whistler hasn't attempted to fully hide the upside-down face in the lower left — that indicates he originally started a different drawing on this plate. (I've turned the face 180° in the images above, bottom.)
Like most etchings and drypoints there are multiple versions of the image pulled from various states of the plate. The Freer/Sackler collection includes two more of the fourth state, here and here. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a state 4 pull from the plate. In my brief searching, I've found mostly state 4 versions; there is apparently no known existing print from the sixth state of the plate.
Here is a record of the 5 other states on the University of Glasgow's Whistler etchings catalogue raisonné.
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