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An Etching by James Whistler

Whistlers' Sketch of Anacapa Island, 1854James Abbott McNeill Whistler, one of the most influential figures in the 19th-century art world, learned etching while employed in the cartographic section of the U.S. Coast Survey. According to that agency's volume of Personnel Records, 1816-1881, Whistler was hired by the federal government as a draftsman on November 7, 1854, for $1.50 a day. However, his unconventional work habits and his inability to conform to government routine led to his dismissal on January 9, 1855.

Portrait of James WhistlerOne of the known works completed by Whistler during his brief federal service, "Sketch of Anacapa Island," 1854, exemplifies Whistler's need to add his personal touch to official charts. After he completed this etching in the approved style, he thought it looked dull. Therefore, he added two flocks of gulls sailing gracefully over the rocky headland.

The National Archives holds three impressions of this work, and the originals can be seen by contacting the Cartographic and Architectural Branch of the National Archives, located in College Park, MD.

Image Top Right:
Sketch of Anacapa Island, 1854
Record Group 23
Records of the Coast And Geodetic Survey
National Archives and Records Administration
Enlarged View

Image Bottom Left:
Portrait of James McNeil Whistler
London, 1878
London Stereographic Company
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
Enlarged View


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