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Off the Beaten Path: Early Works by James McNeill Whistler

Trip through the Rhineland

Le Blanchissage à Cologne, F1898.201

How the real honest hard miseries of this pilgrimage would have effaced all poetry and romance from any minds but our own … how we walked until I actually could not make one step more—how the first night I made a portrait in pencil (we happily had saved a sheet of paper) for a plate of soup for Erneste and myself—how we slept in straw and were thankful—how my wretched Parisian shoes got rid of a portion of their soles… .
Whistler to Deborah Haden, October 1858

Whistler and his traveling companion, fellow artist Ernest Delannoy, began their journey to Amsterdam via the Rhineland in August 1858. Before leaving Paris, they purchased matching brown linen suits and straw hats so they could stand in for one another in their sketches. From Paris, they took the train east into Germany, making stops in Liverdun and Saverne. In Heidelberg, they likely boarded a boat to sail up the Rhine River.

They ran out of money in Cologne, 150 miles from their destination. Whistler “wrote for money to everybody—to a fellow student … to Seymour Haden. … We waited. Every day, we went to the Post Office, and every day the officials said, ‘Nichts, Nichts!’ until finally we got to be known, I with my long hair, Ernest with his brown holland suit and straw hat fearfully out of season.” Unable to pay for their room and board in Cologne, Whistler left his copper etching plates with the innkeeper as collateral. Whistler and Delannoy headed out on foot for the nearest American consulate in Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), where money was waiting for them. Along the way they teamed up with a troupe of traveling performers, and they paid their “way by making portraits for a few sous.” After walking the forty-five miles to Aix-la-Chapelle, the two young men wearily rode the train back to Paris. Whistler later paid his debt to the innkeeper and received his etching plates in return. Prints from some of these plates were included in the French Set.

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