UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Otto Henry Bacher, 1856-1909

Nationality: American
Date of Birth: 1856.03.30
Place of Birth: Cleveland, OH
Date of Death: 1909.08.16
Place of Death: Bronxville, NY

Identity:

Otto Henry Bacher was a book illustrator and etcher.

Life:

Bacher joined a colony of American painters established by Frank Duveneck in Polling, Bavaria. In 1880 the 'Duveneck boys', a group which also included John White Alexander, Robert Frederick Blum, Charles Abel Corwin, George Edward Hopkins, Harper Pennington, Julius Rolshoven and Theodore M. Wendel, travelled to Venice where they formed friendships with JW and Henry James.

The young painters were in awe of JW's experience and reputation. JW, who enjoyed their admiration, happily discussed his work and gave advice to the students. He used to come and sketch from the windows of the Casa Jankowitz on the Riva San Biagio in Castello where the group were staying.

Bacher, who collected Rembrandt etchings, was himself a proficient etcher. He became an apprentice and collaborator with JW, and JW described him as 'one of his favourite pupils'. JW, who was having difficulties with equipment in Venice, made use of Bacher's printer's ink and printing press from June to August 1880. Bacher began to collect JW's etchings, e.g. Nocturne (K.184), The Traghetto, No.1 (K.190), The Mast (K.195), Upright Venice (K.205), The Steamboat, Venice (K.228). Bacher's etchings show the influence of both JW and Duveneck, JW in the small format and Duveneck in the strength of line and complexity. Bacher in turn felt JW to be influenced by his method of tonal printing, his 'Bachertypes'.

Bacher described JW at this time as 'short, thin, and wiry [...] curly black hair and singular white lock, high over his right eye, like a fluffy feather [...] A dark sack-coat almost covered an extremely low turned-down collar, while a narrow black ribbon did service as a tie, the long pennant-like ends of which, flapping about, now and then hit his single eyeglass.'

In 1881 Bacher exhibited his etchings in London with the Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, a society which had formed in 1880 with JW's brother-in-law Francis Seymour Haden as a founder member. JW attempted to dissuade Bacher from exhibiting: 'The Society of Painter-Etchers is already ridiculous and I intend that it shall die the death of the absurd. So just 'wait a bit' - and send nothing to this Seymour Haden game, for I give you the straight tip - it can't possibly succeed' (#00228). However, Bacher sent seventeen etchings. The exhibition was favourably reviewed.

In the USA in the 1880s Bacher, along with Charles Alvah Walker, Albion Harris Bicknell and William Merritt Chase, was responsible for the formation of a 'Monotype Club' in New York.

Bibliography:

Bacher, Otto, 'With Whistler in Venice', The Century Magazine, vol. 73, no. 2, December 1906, pp. 217-18; O. Bacher, 'Stories of Whistler', The Century Magazine, vol. 743, no. 1, May 1907, pp. 100-11; Bacher, O., With Whistler in Venice, New York, 1908; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Getscher, R. H., Whistler and Venice, PhD thesis, Case Western Reserve University, 1970; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995; MacDonald, Margaret F., Palaces in the Night Whistler in Venice, Aldershot, 2001.