The Forge, One of the 'Sixteen Etchings,' or the 'Thames Set'

Accession Number

The Forge, One of the 'Sixteen Etchings,' or the 'Thames Set'

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
drypoint on laid Japan tissue

10 3/16 in x 14 3/8 in (25.88 cm x 36.51 cm)

Credit Line
Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker

Label copy
The Forge, from Sixteen Etchings, or the
Thames Set
Drypoint on laid Japan tissue
Third state of four (Kennedy 68)
Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker, 1954/1.347
Whistler felt free to include in the Thames Set images
made in France, such as Becquet and The Forge. Compared to earlier plates in the set (like The Pool or Eagle Wharf), which are characterized by tightly structured views along the river, some of the latest plates signal a shift in Whistler’s artistic interests. The Forge, the only print from the Thames Set executed entirely in drypoint, depicts a scene in a smithy in Brittany, and the evocation of atmosphere and mystery—a challenge that will increasingly occupy Whistler—is quite different from the more objective riverside scenes.
The subject of a figure by a furnace—whether a farrier, glass-blower, or cooper—is one to which Whistler frequently returns; here the spectral light from the furnace is used as an opportunity to create dramatic chiaroscuro effects in an interior. The smith’s commanding stance conveys confidence, skill, and judgment, but the brilliant light effects lend the figure the mystery of an alchemist or conjurer; his features, rendered in the most delicate lines, disappear into the shadow of the surrounding darkness.
This impression of The Forge is an especially rich one. The raised burr of the drypoint retains the ink to create dark, velvety accents described in broad, free strokes. The plate is carefully wiped so that the edge of the furnace where the light is brightest retains no trace of ink to diminish the effect of blinding light.

Subject matter
Whistler was fascinated with fireline and he frequently drew interiors with blacksmiths, glass blowers, and other crafts that utilize a furnace or fire. Such subjects also allowed him to exploit to great advantage the chiaroscuro effects of the dark interior and the white-hot light from the furnace; they also recall the dramatic interiors and genre subjects of Dutch art. This forge has been identified as one in the town of Perros-Guirec, Brittany, France.

Physical Description
Within a dark interior, a man in a hat and wearing an apron stands at the left side of the image, facing a furnace. He holds the long handle of a tool into the furnace, holding his left hand on his hip. Behind him, to the right, are two youthful assistants wearing dark broad-brimmed hats, one leaning on an anvil. Further to the right are a seated woman and small child and at the far right is a man in a hat going down a flight of stairs. A second woman is visible in the background between the smith and the furnace, she is looking at the smith with hands raised. The interior shows evidence of the smith's work with tools hanging on the wall and a shovel next to one of the assistants.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

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blast furnaces
forge welding
forges (machinery)
groups of people
interior spaces (spaces by location)
working class

3 Related Resources

Work and Workers
(Part of 9 Learning Collections)
Hands Tour
(Part of: Docent Thematic Tours)

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted