image: detail of  'Nocturne Palaces' 1979-80 showing the tab at lower left with Whistler's 'butterfly' monogram
image: 'Nocturne Palaces' 1979-80 intaglio print Collection of the National Gallery of Australia 'Nocturne Palaces' 1979–80 intaglio print Collection of the National Gallery of Australia click to enlarge

Whistler's ‘butterfly’ monogram

A common practice for the period was to leave wide margins but Whistler often chose to trim his papers close to the plate edge, as in the etching and drypoint Nocturne Palaces 1879–80. The tab at lower left bears his ‘butterfly’ monogram.

The butterfly monogram is an interpretation of Whistler’s initials ‘JW’ and varied depending on the medium he was signing. From 1873 onwards Whistler’s butterfly was an integrated component of his compositions. Many of the prints in the collection have two butterfly monograms; one printed as part of the composition and the other signed in pencil by the artist either on a paper tab with the word ‘imp’ or just below the plate mark. Whistler’s mother made the following comment when her young son announced he intended to be an artist:

 I only warn you not to be a butterfly sporting around from one temptation to idleness to another.1

watermark 'ww' centre.

Kassandra Coghlan and Bill Hamilton


1Lochnan, Katherine A, The etchings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London: Yale University Press 1984 p.7.