Some people contend that great art is distinguished in the attention the artist paid to the most minute details. Artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) may be a good case in point in that he even turned his creative energy to the way in which he signed his work.
H. Barbara Weinberg of the Department of American Paintings and Sculpture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, states that “Whistler invented a monogram signature–a stylized butterfly based on his initials–and always placed it deliberately as a compositional element, not just a maker’s mark. His devotion to overall harmony extended to interior decoration, furniture, and the design of frames and even entire exhibitions.” Referring to the drawing pictured above, Prints & Photographs Curator of Fine Prints Katherine Blood describes how Whistler infuses this butterfly as an expressive alter ego: “The impish attitude of this Whistler butterfly is enhanced by its barbed tail, curved antennae, and cape-like wings. Ultimately unpublished, this sprightly version is one in a series of drawings related to the artist’s 1899 account of a legal skirmish with Sir William Eden over artistic control of a portrait of Eden’s wife in The Baronet and the Butterfly.” (MacDonald no. 1573r).
Whistler’s butterfly monogram graces numerous diverse works found in the Prints & Photographs Division, even appearing on his carte-de-visite, shown above. Can you spot the butterfly on the etching Nocturne, which appears below?
- See more drawings by Whistler in the Library’s collection of Master Drawings. Among the Library’s almost 40 drawings by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) are a map said to have been made when the artist was 15 years old, humorous sketches made at West Point in the early 1850s, about 20 butterfly drawings, and a superb self-portrait.
- Explore etchings, drypoints, and lithotints by Whistler in the Library of Congress collection of Fine Prints. [Hint: Look in the lower right corner to find the butterfly in Nocturne. ]
- View more photographic portraits of James McNeill Whistler, his friends and associates, and also Whistler ephemera in LOT 12422, collected by Whistler’s devoted friends and biographers Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell. The Pennells donated The Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection of Whistleriana containing manuscripts, research materials, and memorabilia relating to Whistler in the Library of Congress.
- Read online The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler at the University of Glasgow, which is also home to the Whistler Etchings Project.
- “James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)” by H. Barbara Weinberg, Department of American Paintings and Sculpture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- James McNeill Whistler: drawings, pastels, and watercolors: a catalogue raisonné by Margaret F. MacDonald. New Haven ; London : Yale University Press, 1995. View catalog record: http://lccn.loc.gov/94010253