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Whistler's Greatest Etchings: The 1889 Amsterdam Set
at the Freer Gallery of Art

Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor: 202.357.4880 ext. 319
Barbara Kram: 202.357.4880 ext. 219
Public only: 202.357.2700

June 28, 2003 to February 1, 2004

Best known for his oil paintings, James McNeill Whistler (1834 - 1903) was also a master printmaker. Whistler drew more than 500 prints during his lifetime, including the 11 unusually elaborate etchings often referred to as his "Amsterdam Set." Combining the detail and realism of the prints he completed in Paris and London in 1858 - 1861 with the looser and more subjective style of the prints he drew in Venice in 1879 - 1880, the prints Whistler made in Amsterdam in late 1889 are generally considered to be his greatest accomplishment as a printmaker.

Fourteen impressions of these famous prints, together with masterpieces from earlier periods in Whistler's career as a printmaker, will be on view from June 28 to Feb. 1, 2004 at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art in "Whistler's Greatest Etchings: The 1889 Amsterdam Set."

Charles Lang Freer (1854 - 1919) purchased 11 impressions of the Amsterdam prints directly from Whistler in the spring of 1890. "The Freer's impressions of these rare prints are unsurpassed," says curator Kenneth Myers. Major works from earlier stages of Whistler's career as a printmaker-and from trips he took to Holland in 1863 and the early 1880s-are included so that visitors can see how the complexities of the Amsterdam prints grew out of Whistler's earlier experiments with line and form.

As a young artist in Paris in the late 1850s, Whistler was heavily influenced by Dutch art, but did not visit Amsterdam until 1863. An admirer of his brother-in-law Seymour Haden's fine collection of Rembrandt prints, Whistler made regular visits to Haarlem, Amsterdam and Dordrecht in the 1880s, but it was only in 1889 that he remained in Holland long enough to produce a major body of work.

Whistler began to print the Amsterdam plates in late 1889 or early 1890, but soon discovered that his exceptionally intricate and delicate line work wore down under pressure of his printing press. Unwilling to produce inferior impressions of these complex works, Whistler abandoned the Amsterdam plates after printing no more than 30 impressions of any of them.

Objects on view include:

  • "The Embroidered Curtain," widely considered Whistler's greatest accomplishment as a printmaker. It is one of the greatest of all 19th-century prints. see F1906.126 *
  • "Nocturne: Dance-House" (see F1906.117 *) and "Square House, Amsterdam" (see F1906.113 *), two spectacular views of the back of a rickety tenement on the Zeedijk canal in the heart of Amsterdam's red-light district. "Nocturne: Dance-House" was the last great nocturne that Whistler ever completed.
  • "The Mill," which demonstrates Whistler's fascination with visual narratives picturing a darkened interior looking out on a sunlit scene (see F1906.127 *)
  • "Pierrot" (see F1906.116 *), Whistler once wrote that this was his favorite Amsterdam print

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call 202.357.2700 or TTY 202.357.1729, or visit the galleries' Web site at

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