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Whistler's watermarks

A bishop’s crosier watermark
The Cantons of the Helvetian confederation

 

'The doctor' 1894 lithograph Collection of the National Gallery of Australia 'The doctor' 1894 lithograph Collection of the National Gallery of Australia more detail

An ornate version of the 'Bishop’s crosier' watermark presents the staff surrounded by the escutcheons of the 12 Swiss cantons which were the foundation members of the Helvetian confederation. A fine example is in the National Gallery of Australia' collection, in Whistler’s transfer lithograph The Doctor (1894), a seated figure study of the artist’s brother William (younger by three years and held in life-long affection).

Tschudin illustrates 128 versionsof the 'Bishop’s crosier' watermark and emblazons it in gold on the cover of The Ancient Paper-Mills of Basle and their Marks.1 He lists the source papers bearing the 'bishop’s crosier' watermark as ranging in date from 1522 to 1830, emanating from mills in Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands.2

The majority of mills using the 'Bishop’s crosier' watermark were of Basel, many in the St. Albantal enclave in the upper part of the grounds of the monastery of St. Alban (founded in 1083, a remnant of which survives). In these grounds 12 mills were operated by 22 generations of papermakers over roughly five centuries.

Early makers at St. Albantal included the Heuslers, the Dürrs and the Dürrings – dynasts all , who through intermarriage and multiple exchanges of mills, held centre stage on the Basel scene from the 16th to 18th centuries. The mills were powered by water from the upper St. Alban canal, fed from the Birs, a minor stream which flowed into the Rhine.

The papermakers of Basel (also known as Basle) occasionally protested against the use of ‘their’ crosier watermark by papermakers elsewhere; though the Basel papermakers were known to have appropriated motifs of makers in Berne and Frankfurt.3

image: Drawn illustration of The Cantons of the Helvetian Confederation watermark Drawn illustration of 'The Cantons of the Helvetian confederation' watermark

The Art Institute of Chicago's publication The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler includes a drawn illustration of the version of the 'bishop’s crosier' watermark (featuring the escutcheons of the cantons) that appears under The Doctor.4

The Doctor has a sad genesis. It was drawn by Whistler in Paris (where the Whistler's resided), when Doctor William Whistler came to call on the artist's wife Beatrix. He diagnosed cancer. Nonetheless, the artist came to admire the image, so much so that he asked his printer to increase the edition from 12 to 30 proofs.5

The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler does not offer a maker of or a date for the paper on which The Doctor is printed, however it is evident from one of the publication's illustrations6 that fibre pulp has flocked along the chain lines, indicating the sheet was 'antique laid' (ie formed on a single-faced mould), therefore made before the introduction of double-faced moulds late in the 18th century.

Tschudin illustrates a version of the Swiss cantons watermark which is the same as that in The Doctor, except that two leafed branchlets sprout from the top of the watermark and there is a stylised hand at the centre of its base.7 He ascribes the type to a source document of 1759, made by the mill owned by the Dürrings at Saint Marie-aux-Mines.

Kassandra Coghlan and Bill Hamilton

Notes
1 Tschudin, WF, The Ancient Paper-Mills of Basle and their Marks, Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society 1958, pp.137–162.
2 Tschudin, WF, The Ancient Paper-Mills of Basle and their Marks, Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society 1958, p.36.
3 Tschudin, WF, The Ancient Paper-Mills of Basle and their Marks, Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society 1958, pp.129–131.
4 Spink, Nesta R, Stratis, Harriet K, and Tedeschi, Martha, in The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler Vol.I: A Catalogue Raisonné, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago 1998, pp.341–343.
5 Spink, Nesta R, Stratis, Harriet K, and Tedeschi, Martha, in The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler Vol.II: Correspondence and Technical Studies The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago 1998, p.350.
6 Spink, Nesta R, Stratis, Harriet K, and Tedeschi, Martha, in The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler Vol.II: Correspondence and Technical Studies The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago 1998, p.350.
7 Tschudin, WF, The Ancient Paper-Mills of Basle and their Marks, Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society 1958, p.192.

 

 

A Bishop’s Crosier watermark