The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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2nd October 2003 - Dry Points

On 2 October 1877 Whistler wrote the following note to banker, art collector and MP for North Lancashire, James John Heywood:

"Dear Sir. / I know that my Etchings have a place in your valuable collection - & so I write to tell you that I have again taken up my Copper plates - & have just produced some Dry points - quite new - they are curiously delicate in quality & will consequently give very few impressions - Will you come & see them? I shall not be leaving town just yet - & will be delighted to see you in my Studio - & show you my work..."

(GUL MS Whistler H352)

Whistler seems around this time to have been publishing some of his dry point sketches, perhaps those of local scenes such as Lindsay Houses (K.166), and he was trying to drum up some business. Whistler emphasises the delicate nature of these dry points, drawing attention to the difference in technique between etching and dry point making. In the former process, acid bites a clean line into the copper plate where the artist has scratched away a protective coating with his needle. In the case of dry point however, it is simply the scratched impression of the needle which gives the line when the plate is inked, and the raised ridge of metal where the pen has drawn (called the burr) is particularly effective in giving a rich and subtle impression when printed. However, as the burr falls away from the plate more and more with the pulling of impressions the delicate quality is gradually lost and so fewer images can be made than with the etching process.

At this stage in Whistler's career, etchings and dry points would have been sold for between 4 and 6 guineas apiece; it is not known whether Heywood visited Whistler's studio on this occasion.