Skip to main content

The Wine Glass

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Artwork Details

The Wine Glass
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
etching on white laid paper
8 3/16 in. x 6 5/8 in. ( 20.8 cm x 16.8 cm )
Museum Purchase made possible by the Friends of the Museum of Art


The Wine Glass
Second state of two (Kennedy 27)
Museum purchase made possible by the Friends of the Museum, 1992/2.4
In this etching, the twenty-four-year-old Whistler has clearly mastered the use of line to build up dramatic contrasts of light and dark, called chiaroscuro, that he admired so much in the work of Rembrandt. In this modest-sized print, the wine glass appears to emerge from deep shadow. The artist’s ability to convey the texture of the glass itself—including small air bubbles, the definition of the rim and stem, and the transmitted light on the shadowed silver tray underneath the glass—demonstrate his control of the vocabulary of etching in his early work.

Subject Matter:

Whistler spent time in London with his half-sister Deborah and her husband, the surgeon Francis Seymour Haden. Although Whistler had learned the mechanics of etching in the United States, under the tutelage of his brother-in-law Whistler had access to Haden's large and fine collection of Old Master and contemporary prints (including 139 Rembrandts) through which Whistler could examine the artistic potentials of etching. Haden and Whistler worked together in these early days, often etching the same scene and then proofing the plates on Haden's printing press. "The Wine Glass" is an early etching, probably drawn at the Hadens' house, and shows the young artist taking on the kind of challenge that he would have admired in Rembrandt's work, e.g. Rembrandt's etching "The Shell". Here, however, Whistler tries to do one better; the reflective and translucent properties of glass, complete with air bubbles, is a particularly difficult challenge but are masterfully handled.

Physical Description:

A long-stem wine glass is seen brightly lit from above and set against a dark, undescribed background. The glass stands on a shallow footed metal tray.

Usage Rights:

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.