James Abbott McNeill Whistler made several etchings to mark the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria in 1887 and Windsor (Memorial) was one of them. Whistler included a print of this image in a leather-bound Memorial address that he prepared on behalf of the Society of British Artists and sent to the Queen in July, 1887. Whistler’s early biographers, the Pennells, recounted the event in 1911:
"1887 was Queen Victoria's Jubilee, and every society of artists prepared addresses to Her Majesty; Whistler could not permit his Society to appear less ceremoniously loyal. His account to us was:
“Well, you know, I found that the Academy and the Institute and the rest of them were preparing addresses to the Queen, and so I went to work too, and I prepared a most wonderful address. Instead of the illuminated performances for such occasions, I took a dozen folio sheets of my old Dutch paper. I had them bound by Zaehnsdorf. First came the beautiful binding in yellow morocco and the inscription to Her Majesty, every word just in the right place most wonderful. You opened it, and on the first page you found a beautiful little drawing of the royal arms that I made myself; the second page, an etching of Windsor, as though 'there's where you live.' On the third page the address began. I made decorations all round the text in water-colour, at the top the towers of Windsor, down one side a great battleship plunging through the waves, and below, the sun that never sets on the British Empire What? The following pages were not decorated, just the most wonderful address, explaining the age and dignity of the Society, its devotion to Her Glorious, Gracious Majesty, and suggesting the honour it would be if this could be recognised by a title that would show the Society to belong specially to Her. Then, the last page you turned, and there was a little etching of my house at Chelsea 'And now, here's where I live!' (1) And then you closed it, and at the back of the cover was the Butterfly." (2)
The Queen granted the society a Royal Charter, and it became the Royal Society of British Artists.
Queen Victoria used Windsor Castle as her principal home, especially after the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Whistler has depicted the castle from the vantage point of a boat on the Thames River, which dominates the lower two-thirds of the composition, and the castle’s famous Round Tower dominates the center of the architectural part of the composition. Since Whistler etched the scene directly on his plate, the print reverses the composition as he saw and drew it. St. George’s Chapel is therefore seen to the left in the print with the Curfew Tower just to its left. These two darker, vertical elements anchor the composition, whereas the other architectural elements are more indistinctly rendered, especially the state and private apartments seen at the right. Because Whistler has included a considerable expanse of the river in the composition, he makes Windsor Castle appear almost as an island or a mirage. This aspect is heightened in the Dumbarton Oaks print by the fact that in wiping the plate before the print was taken, he has left behind ink that adds definition both to the water’s surface and the sky, which thereby seems to engulf the castle. Only the central right area is wiped clean, and this “blank” area balances the more densely articulated area at the left. Other known prints from this plate limit or omit this tonal definition of water and sky.
The twenty-four year old Mildred Barnes acquired this print from the New York print gallery, H. Wunderlich & Co., which had been selling proofs of Windsor (Memorial) since at least 1888. In that year the firm learned from the artist’s son that there were no more proofs of “Windsor Castle (dry point)” at present, “but on Mr Whistler's return he will doubtless print a few more and then I shall send you the couple that you require.” (3)
The Dumbarton Oaks print is the third state of four. (4) Whistler’s butterfly insignia appears in the water in the lower third of the composition.
(1) Chelsea (Memorial), 1887. Edward G. Kennedy, The Etched Work of Whistler, (San Francisco, 1978), no. 331.
(2) Elizabeth Robbins and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler (Philadelphia/London, 1911), 261-262.
(3) Correspondence of September 15, 1888, from Charles James Whistler Hanson to Hermann Wunderlich and Co., New York, Glasgow University Library, MS Whistler LB 7/31/2.
(4) See Frederick Wedmore, Whistler's Etchings, A Study and a Catalogue, 2nd ed. (London, 1899), no. 247, and Bibliography: Kennedy.
Kennedy, Edward G. The Etched Work of Whistler. San Francisco: A. Wofsey Fine Arts, 1978, 93-94, no. 329.
Carder, James. American Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010, 38-41, no. 3.
Grolier Club, New York, New York, Etchings and Dry-Points by James McNeill Whistler, April 15-May 7, 1904, no. 263.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., during the Convention of the American Federation of Art, May 1939.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., American Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Selections from the House Collection, October 26, 2010-February 13, 2011, no. 3.
Purchased by Mildred Barnes from H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, New York, December, 1903.
Collection of Mildred Barnes, New York, New York, until April 14, 1908.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., until January 17, 1969.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.