Contributions to the 5th AICCM Book, Paper and Photographic Materials Symposium. Editors: Prue McKay and Alana Treasure. Canberra, ACT: AICCM (Inc.), 2008.
Born in the United States and having lived in St Petersburg, Russia, James McNeill Whistler was considered a vagabond in the art world of Paris but later became famous as a painter in 19th century Britain. It is less known that he was a prolific and adventurous printmaker who had a passion for aged papers. Whistler took exceptional care with every aspect of the creation of each of his plates, stones and impressions. The characteristics of his chosen papers were an integral part of the finished print. He celebrated flaws and irregularities in the paper and sought uniqueness at a time when uniformity was a priority for editioned works. Torn edges, surface dirt, foxing and old inscriptions were all creatively accommodated and incorporated. In March 2005 The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) opened an exhibition of Whistler’s prints titled An artist abroad. Preparation for this exhibition provided an excellent opportunity for Paper Conservation staff to examine and catalogue papers used by this artist. Watermarks, countermarks and housemarks reveal more than meets the eye. A selection of Whistler’s papers and watermarks have been researched and recorded digitally and are available on the NGA website through the Conservation webpage. This paper will discuss the website, concentrating on original archival research into Whistler’s watermarks.