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Whistler's watermarks

Strasburg lily watermark

 

Strasburg Lily watermark

Photographed in transmitted light, the etching Millbank 1861 from the Thames Set shows the watermark of a lion rampant on a shield with the initials M and C and part of a countermark MDCCCXXVIII (1828) Collection: National Gallery of Australia

A fine example of the 'Strasburg lily' watermark can be seen in the paper used for Whistler’s 1879–80 etching of The palaces.

There are many variations of the 'Strasburg lily' watermark. It has also been known, more prosaically, as the Fleur-de-Lis on a Crowned Shield, or simply as the Fleur-de-Lis, (a term derived from the central element of the design).

The watermark – in use from 1600 through to the 19th century – was not limited to papers made in Strasburg, but was also used in Basle, about 120km upstream in Switzerland. It appears widely in the Netherlands (notably in Amsterdam) and, to an extent, in England and Germany.1 Variations had currency in Russia and Scandinavia. Many of these places used a less florid version which preserved the basic components – the crowned shield enclosing the lily.

Some variations of the mark came to be associated with specific sizes of paper. In Britain the 'Strasburg lily' came to represent Demy (40 x 51cm); with a slight alteration in the crown section, the emblem signifies Imperial (standard size 56 x 76cm).

The Russian version of the 'Strasburg lily' was used by mills in and near Uglich, Veliko Selo and River Yukhot.2 Papermaking burgeoned in Russia following the active encouragement of Peter the Great (1689–1725). Peter made an extended visit to western Europe early in his reign, and was intent on bringing his empire to Europe and transforming much of its medieval serf economy into an industrialised state.

image: Whistler 'The palaces' 1879-80 intaglio print Collection of the National Gallery of Australia click to enlarge 'The palaces' 1879–80 intaglio print Collection of the National Gallery of Australia more detail

In 1697 Peter spent time at Zaandam in the Netherlands (see the De Erven de Blauw countermark), where he carefully investigated techniques of shipbuilding and papermaking. Thereafter he was instrumental in the establishment of paper mills at a number of centres.3

By the early 19th century Russian paper mills had grown into large enterprises. In 1826 the Veliko Selo paper mill employed 530 people (of whom 143 were children between six and fourteen years of age).4

In Denmark the pared-down version of the 'Strasburg lily' was in use in the 18th century at a paper mill at Engelsholm, near Horsens, in Jutland. The form is described by Voorn as a ‘Crowned shield with figure representing a Lily’.5

The watermark in Whistler’s The palaces bears the date ‘1814’ below the design. This date can only be used to verify the initial year of the watermark’s use. Under transmitted light the image shows flocking of pulp along the chain lines, which occurred when the sheet was still in the wet state on the mould.

This condition is characteristic of single-faced moulds, which were mostly superseded by double-faced moulds late in the 18th century, but could have still been in use by mills in 1814. While this date cannot substantiate the year of manufacture, it indicates the sheet was produced in the early part of the 19th century.

Kassandra Coghlan and Bill Hamilton

Notes
1Churchill WA, Watermarks in paper in Holland, England, France, etc., in the XVII and XVIII centuries and their interconnection, Amsterdam: Nieuwkoop B De Graaf 1985, authorized reprint 1935, pp.83–84.
2 Uchastkina ZV (edited and adapted for publication in English by JSG Simmons ), A History of Russian hand paper-mills and their watermarks, Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society, 1962. See figures 210–13 and pp.74–81.
3 Uchastkina ZV (edited and adapted for publication in English by JSG Simmons ), A History of Russian hand paper-mills and their watermarks, Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society, 1962, p.15.
4 Uchastkina ZV (edited and adapted for publication in English by JSG Simmons ), A History of Russian hand paper-mills and their watermarks, Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society, 1962, p.79.
5 Voorn H, The paper mills of Denmark and Norway and their watermarks, Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society, 1959, figure VII5 and p.45.