Technical Terms

ETCHING: A print made from a copper plate, covered in a waxy acid-resistant ground. The artist draws an image through the ground with an etching needle and then immerses the plate in acid that bites into the bare metal exposed by the drawing, creating an incised design on the plate. The waxy ground is then removed, and the plate is covered in ink, which settles into the grooves of the design, as the excess ink is wiped. A sheet of damp paper and the plate are pressed together in a printing press, leaving a reversed impression on the paper. (Example: Fumette)

DRYPOINT: An etching technique in which the artist draws directly onto an ungrounded plate with a sharp needle, creating a metal ridge (a burr) along the incised groove that holds ink in the printing process. This results in rich, velvety lines. (Example: J. Becquet, Sculptor)

LITHOGRAPH: A print made from a stone, on which the artist draws an image with a greasy crayon. An acid wash and a solution of gum Arabic are applied to the stone to seal the drawing. The stone is then coated with water to render the blank spaces grease-repellent; ink is rolled on the stone and adheres only to the artist’s design. When a sheet of paper is then pressed onto the stone, the artist’s image leaves an impression. Whistler favored a method known as transfer lithography, in which the drawing is first made on a sheet of paper, which is then dampened and pressed to a stone on which it replicates the drawing. (Example: La Belle Dame Endormie​​​​​​​)

  • sketch of a portrait of woman in a crouched position

    James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)
    Fumette, 1858
    Etching and drypoint, black ink on cream French laid paper
    6 3/8 × 4 1/4 in. (16.3 × 10.9 cm)
    Published in the French Set (“Twelve Etchings from Nature,” 1858)
    Fifth state of five
    Signed at lower right in plate: “Whistler”
    Gertrude Kosovsky Collection
    © The Frick Collection

     

    Whistler's mistress, nicknamed Fumette, was his model for this print. She embodies the grisette, a working-class woman of Paris, demonstrating Whistler's realist tendencies at this time. With its lace collar, fitted bodice, full skirt, and apron, Fumette's costume may indicate her occupation as a seamstress or Whistler's budding fashion interests. Her loosened hair and informal crouched position accentuate her bohemian character, while her calm expression belies her reportedly fiery temper, which prompted Whistler to call her "the tigress."

  • Portrait of a man with a cello

    James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)
    J. Becquet, Sculptor, 1859
    Etching and drypoint, brownish-black ink on ivory French laid paper
    10 × 7 1/2 in. (25.4 × 19 cm)
    Published in the Thames Set (“A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on The Thames and Other Subjects,” 1871)
    Sixth state of six
    Gertrude Kosovsky Collection
    © The Frick Collection

     

    Just Becquet, a Parisian sculptor and musician, is shown holding a cello, his eyes gazing intently at the viewer. While his head is highly detailed, other areas of the composition are more simply executed. Minimal lines delineate the instrument's form and the subject's hands; in dramatic contrast to the nearly empty space in the center of the composition, sweeping, velvety drypoint lines frame Becquet's cloak, adding depth and a sense of movement.

  • woman sleeping in chair

    James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)
    La Belle Dame Endormie, 1894
    Transfer lithograph, black ink on ivory laid paper
    12 3/4 × 8 1/8 in. (32.3 × 20.6 cm)
    Only state
    Printed, center left, and signed in graphite, below image, at lower right: Whistler’s butterfly monogram
    Gertrude Kosovsky Collection
    © The Frick Collection

     

    Working on transfer paper with broad, rapid strokes of a lithographic crayon, Whistler captured his wife, Beatrice, resting on an armchair in their Paris apartment. The artist’s sureness of touch reveals his extraordinary skill as a draftsman and the intimacy of his connection with his subject. Already ill with cancer, Beatrice would die two years after this print was published. This poignant work is printed on old laid paper removed from a book of blank sheets, giving it the look of a drawing pulled from a sketchbook. To his printer, Whistler wrote, "this is, certainly, at present, my favorite lithograph."