The model for this famous drypoint print was Whistler’s mistress, agent, and muse, Joanne (Jo) Hiffernan, an Irish beauty. Whistler’s creation of her image was exuberantly recounted in 1921 by Joseph Pennell: “Jo was his model for the various ‘White Girls,’ (1) the little and the large ones. And she had evidently been posing for him, and this day she was tired out. For though he was the most kindly and gracious of men, and most considerate to women, save they were posing, he thought then of nothing but his work. And Jo, evidently tired out after an hour or so of standing, threw herself in a chair, and there she rested. But he never stopped; he found a plate and made his dry point of her. Every change was a new subject for him, and this print of Jo, “Weary,” is the most exquisite portrait that was ever done in dry point in this world.” (2)
Jo’s languorous, reclining pose is strongly reminiscent of several works by the English Pre-Raphaelite artists, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti's drawings of Jane Morris, who suffered throughout her life from debilitating back pain and was often too ill to sit up or stand, and Rossetti drew her reclining. Rossetti and Whistler became friends in 1862, a year before Whistler made this print. Rossetti would turn to studies of the reclining Morris in the early 1870s, possibly inspired by Whistler’s print. (3)
The Dumbarton Oaks Weary is the second state impression of three known to have been made by Whistler (before additional work was done on the hair). (4) The quality of this impression is very good, and the wispy and insubstantial etched lines display considerable burr. Faintly etched in the lower left area of the skirt is seen the rendering of a head, which is a remnant of a previous image that Whistler neglected to completely stop out before reusing the plate for Weary. (5) Weary is printed on very thin, silky Japanese paper (Japon perlure), which absorbs the ink and adds to the softness and delicacy of the print. Weary was one of the last etchings Whistler made before he took a seven-year hiatus from printmaking in order to devote himself to painting and drawing. It is also one of the last of his prints to retain the margin outside the plate mark; Whistler began trimming these margins in the 1870s.
Whistler exhibited a print of Weary in the 1863 Royal Academy exhibition at the London Athenaeum, prompting one critic to remark on its "exquisite tone and 'colour'. (6)
(1) These include his 1862 Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1943.6.2).
(2) Joseph Pennell, The Graphic Arts, Modern Men and Modern Methods (Chicago, 1921), 171.
(3) See especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Jane Morris Reclining, pencil on paper, ca. 1870, 25.4 cm x 23.8 cm (10 in. x 9 3/8 in.), National Museums Liverpool (Walker Gallery), WAG 3207. The theme of the reclining woman would be taken up later most famously by Frederic, Lord Leighton in his ca. 1895 Flaming June (Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico, 63.0406) and John Singer Sargent’s 1911 Nonchaloir (Repose) (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1948.16.1).
(4) See Frederick Wedmore, Whistler's Etchings, A Study and a Catalogue, 2nd ed. (London, 1899), no. 83.
(5) The copper etching plate for this print, measuring 19.5 cm x 13.2 cm, is in the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, GLAHA 50283.
(6) Margaret F. MacDonald, “Whistler on Exhibition,” The Magazine Antiques vol. 147, no. 6 (June, 1995), 864.
(7) Wedmore, no. 86. See note 4.
“Whistlers from Windsor, Etchings and Dry Points Recently in the Library of Windsor Castle.” The New York Times (November 8, 1906), 8.
Lugt, Frits. Les marques de collections de dessins et d'estampes. Amsterdam: Vereenig de druckkerijen, 1921, no. 2004a and no. 2535.
Kennedy, Edward G. The Etched Work of Whistler. San Francisco: A. Wofsey Fine Arts, 1978, 93-94, no. 92.
Carder, James. American Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010, 28-31, no. 1.
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. 1.
Collection of Queen Victoria, Royal Library at Windsor, London.
Purchased from H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, N.Y., by Cora Barnes and given to Mildred Barnes, December 24, 1906.
Collection of Mildred Barnes, New York, N.Y., 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.