La Rétameuse

James McNeill Whistler American

Not on view

Whistler portrays a poor elderly woman in old-fashioned garb wearing a distinctive bonnet. "La Rétameuse" translates as tinker, a travelling repairer of tinlware and the subject has thrust what may be a shuttle, or large spoon, into the waist of her apron. Several of the etchings that the artist published in "Douze eau-fortes d'apres Nature" (Twelve Etchings from Nature) in 1858 center on French women who worked into old age. He presented them without sentiment or idealization but with an awareness that society's need for their skills was being swept away by industrialization. The sensitive detailed etching of this subject's irregular facial features contrasts with looser open lines elsewhere in the image, a handling that echoes Rembrandt whose prints Whistler knew from the collection of his brother-in-law Seymour Haden. This impression belonged to Thomas Winans, a Baltimore friend who financed Whistler's move to Paris in 1855; Winans kept the print in an album that descendants gave to the Museum.

La Rétameuse, James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London), Etching on tan chine on off-white wove paper (chine collé); second state of two (Glasgow)

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