James McNeill Whistler was a prolific and inventive printmaker who took exceptional care with every stage in the creation of plates, stones and impressions. He gave no less consideration to his papers, the characteristics of which were an integral component of the finished print. Whistler celebrated flaws and irregularities in the paper and strived for what was unique at a time when uniformity was a priority for editioned works.
Of the some 260 prints in the National Gallery collection, 118 are on paper bearing a watermark and several watermarks previously unrecorded in relation to Whistler's work, have been discovered. The below pages discuss the motifs, meaning and history behind these diverse watermarks, as explored by the National Gallery’s paper conservation team.