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.
One 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 Stereographic Company
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Enlarged View