The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 10562
Date: [24 April 1891?][1]
Author: JW
Place: [Paris]
Recipient: William Ernest Henley[2]
Place: [Edinburgh]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC
Document Type: ALS


Capital again mon cher Directeur!

And this time O! Poet and Pamphleteer! (the charming little volumes[3] have just arrived - I have this moment opened the parcel from Nutts[4]) this time, I say, you have drawn the enemy!!

What do you think of his letter! clearly an admission - Now Pennel[5] [sic] and Sickert[6] should be put on again - and meanwhile do you point out that there is no such thing as [p. 2] a "dry point etching[7]".

An "etching", is a drawing upon a metal plate (generally copper) bitten into the metal by acid.

For this purpose the plate is previously covered with a coating of resinous varnish [for thing?] which shall protect the surface from all action of the acid, except in the clean lines laid bare by the needle which has cut through the varnish, or "ground", and exposed the metal -

Again how foolish: "an etching produced with the assistance of biting in" .. - Without acid "biting in", there is no "Etching" - hence indeed the term: Etching - from Etzen - to eat or to bite -

Now a "dry Point", is, on the contrary, a result obtained without acid - Hence again the term: "Dry[8] point".

Acid is destructive to "dry point" which is a drawing scratched into the polished surface of the clean uncovered plate -

The tiny thread of metal lifted ploughed out of the line by the point as it runs along, clings to its edge through its whole length and, in the printing, holds the ink in a clogged manner, and produces, in the proof, a soft velvety effect, most painter like & beautiful - a distinct characteristic also of "Dry Point", and precious too, for this raised ridge, called "burr", ("barbe" in French), soon falls off the plate, from the continued wiping in printing - so that early proofs only have the velvety line and are also because of its presence, distinguished valued -

[p. 3] In an etching there is no "burr" - as such ridge of metal is immediately disolved [sic] by the acid and the line is left clean. The impression is consequently quite crisp and without soft velvet effect of the dry point "burr". -

From this elaborate explanation it will clearly be seen that there is no such thing as a "dry point etching" - and thus "an etching produced with the assistance of biting in" is an enunciation, so highly unscientific, that it is to be hoped that it is reserved for the Slade[9] chair alone at The University . -

Voilà! - I leave you with this -

Now I have had a letter announcing the safe arrival of the Carlyle[10] in Glasgow - and in my innermost I experience a longing that the little anecdote I sent you of Mr. Scharf's[11] official judgement should see the light - ?

The N. O.[12] this week is stupendous! - and the W. B. Richmond[13] article a masterpiece!

A bientot -

[butterfly signature]

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1.  [24 April 1891?]
This is a reply to Henley's letter of 18 April 1891 (#04248); also dated by the reference to Glasgow (see below).

2.  William Ernest Henley
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), journalist, poet and writer [more].

3.  volumes
Including Henley's Views and Reviews: Essays in Appreciation, London, 1890 (GUL Whistler 57).

4.  Nutts
Probably David Nutt, bookseller and publisher.

5.  Pennel
Joseph Pennell (1860-1926), printer and illustrator, JW's biographer [more]. The issue under discussion concerned Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914), painter [more], whose photogravure reproductions of pen drawings were described as etchings in his publication An Idyll, sparking off a great controversy. (see National Observer, vol. 6, 18 April 1891, pp. 555-556, and 2 May 1891, pp. 603-604; Haden, F. S., on the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers, Nineteenth Century, May 1891, vol. 29, pp. 775-781; and Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, vol. 2, p. 186).

6.  Sickert
Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), artist and writer on art [more].

7.  dry point etching
'Dry point ... velvety effect' was published in Maggs catalogue 536, London, Spring 1930, p. 233, cat. no. 627.

8.  Dry
Double underlined.

9.  Slade
The Slade Professor at the University of Oxford, currently Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914), painter [more].

10.  Carlyle
Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137) was purchased by the Corporation of Glasgow for the new City Art Galleries. It was delivered to Glasgow on 23 April (see J. W Paton to JW, 24 April 1891, #01676).

11.  Mr. Scharf's
Sir George Scharf (1820-1895), archaeological painter and Director of the National Portrait Gallery [more].

12.  N. O.
Henley's paper, the National Observer.

13.  W. B. Richmond
William Blake Richmond (1842-1921), portrait painter and sculptor [more].