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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Whistler’s "Eagle Wharf"

by Conservation


behind the scenes , conservation , paper , works on paper , prints , Prints and Drawings

James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Eagle Wharf, etching of a figure sitting on a dock looking out at some ships on a harbor


Now that the Albrecht Dϋrer exhibit is open in the Schiff Gallery on the second floor, our paper conservator has turned her attention to some new acquisitions. First on the list is a lovely etching by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, b.1834, d.1903). Eagle Wharf, printed in 1859, is one of A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects, otherwise known as the Thames Set. Although the set was published in 1871, the individual prints created over several years vary in size and were printed on a variety of papers. Whistler carefully chose the papers for his prints, often using old handmade rag papers from books or thin Japanese papers. Our print is on a laid, rag paper with the watermark “DE ERVEN D. BLAUW” running from top to bottom through the center of the sheet. Other prints from the Thames Set in the museum’s collection have the same watermark, while others have different watermarks used by the same Dutch paper mill.


backside of the etching


Before our new print joins others from the Thames Set, it will be removed from its mat, and the white, pressure sensitive tape holding it to the window mat will be removed. The tape is still fresh enough that it can be carefully lifted from the paper without the use of strong solvents to soften the adhesive. The next step will be to humidify and press the print to flatten the cockling along the top edge and to reduce the creases along the bottom of the image. Eagle Wharf is a welcome addition to our print collection, and to the paper conservator’s list of prints to treat.


Image Credit: James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, b.1834, d.1903), Eagle Wharf, from A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects (Thames Set), 1859, etching and drypoint, The Gift of Margaret Farmer Planton, 17/18.4.