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Whistler’s beehive watermarks

15 June 2018 by Alex Patterson

Keith our paper conservator working on the Whistler etchings before display

For a curator the best part of any exhibition, is the first time you properly look at the objects. This is a time when you can make discoveries and investigate objects beyond their normal scope. When I first began work on the Whistler & Pennell: Etching the City exhibition, Keith our paper conservator analysed the condition of the prints. In doing so, he noticed a wonderful watermark on the paper used for James McNeill Whistler’s prints (1834-1903). It is a beautiful design with a central beehive motif surrounded by ornate scrollwork of leaves and flowers crowned with a fruit tree. It also shows the initials DEDB. I immediately wanted to learn more about where this paper came from and why it was used for Whistler’s prints so I could include it in the exhibition and share it with our visitors. This is what I found!

Drawn illustration of the De Erven de Blauw ‘beehive’ watermark from National Gallery of Australia

Apparently Whistler was very selective about what paper was used for his etchings. This wasn’t at all unusual; the etching revival had instigated a new interest in the aesthetic tone and structure of paper. Modern paper made in the early 19th century could be highly acidic and appear bright white after the introduction of wood pulp and chlorine bleaches into the paper-making process. Laid paper was also gradually replaced with wove paper which had a more even surface. Whistler, and indeed most printers, refused to use such paper as it affected the overall tone and aesthetic of the work. The modern paper created too much of a contrast between the inks and the white background. Also wove paper did not hold the ink in the same way as laid paper.

Following Rembrandt’s example, Whistler like most etchers’ and printers preferred to use ‘Old Dutch’ or silky Japanese paper. Throughout his life Whistler constantly searched stationers and old book shops looking for it, as large quantities could still be found in London, Paris and Amsterdam. Made from boiled and beaten rags, drained on wire moulds, ‘Old Dutch’ paper was high quality with a ribbed texture and creamy in colour. Japanese paper was alternatively made from the bark of a mulberry tree; it could vary in thickness and tone from pale cream to a pronounced yellow. These types of paper could be identified by their unique watermark.

Limeburner, etching by JM Whistler from the Lady Lever Art Gallery exhibition with watermark

A watermark is design or motif that is caused by thickness variations created by the wire mould when shaping the paper. The ‘beehive’ watermark that we found on Whistler’s print’s, shown in transmitted light, is not the mark of ‘Old Dutch’ papermakers as I originally thought, but it can be traced to Holland.

The ‘beehive’ watermark is associated with the Honig (honey) family of Dutch papermakers who owned mills in Zaandijk, North Holland. The coat of arms was widely copied throughout the Netherlands and came to represent Dutch papermaking more generally. Whistler’s ‘beehive’ watermark is a variation belonging to the De Erven de Blauw papermakers from the 1820s, which explains the initials DEDB within the design (there were alternate versions of the De Erven de Blauw watermark also shown)

Alternative beehive watermark from Whistler’s portrait of Sculptor, J Becquet.

We would have never known that these watermarks existed on the Walker Art gallery’s prints before as they are not visible under normal lighting conditions, it was crucial to photograph our findings through transmitted light to document the work. This research and photographs of all the prints which contain the watermark are permanently available for everyone to view on Watermark, our online collection of works on paper.

 

Whistler and Liverpool

Shipping at Liverpool (1867) and The Two Ships (1875) by James McNeill Whistler

My research for the Whistler & Pennell: Etching the City exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery uncovered some really interesting information about James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and his connection to Liverpool and Lancashire area.   Read more…

Architectural lines – a drawing and print workshop with Kathryn Edwards

17 May 2018 by Ann

Workshop leader Kathryn Edwards

Kathryn Edwards is an Artist and Musician. She will be delivering line drawing workshops at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight on 9 June and 24 July as part of the Whistler and Pennell: Etching the city exhibition.

In this blog we give a background to Kathryn as a workshop leader, an insight into how the work of Whistler and Pennell sparked the inspiration for these workshops, which are suitable for beginners and experienced artists alike and all about creating confidence. Kathryn’s art is about interpretation and in this free workshop she wants visitors to feel every line created is the right one, no erasers needed!

Places on the workshop are free but spaces are limited, advance booking via Eventbrite is essential.

Read more…

From New York to London via Port Sunlight

2 May 2018 by Ann

A first glimpse of the exhibition

We’re preparing to bring a little bit of city life to Port Sunlight  and the Lady Lever Art Gallery this week as we countdown to the opening of our spring exhibition Whistler & Pennell: Etching the city on Friday 4 May.

Profiling the work of American artists; James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell who made London their home, the exhibition reveals their passion, innovation and influence upon an artistic technique that at the time was in decline.

Read more…



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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.