'Limehouse' was published in 1871 by Messrs Ellis and Green as part of 'Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects', known more widely as the 'Thames Set'.
Limehouse is a district on the northern bank of the River Thames opposite Rotherhithe. Whistler is looking east from Wapping, with the harbour master’s house closest to him. The Bunch of Grapes pub is next door and Curtis Gin Distiller Co. Ltd further along.
The abrupt cutting off of the boat in the foreground creates a sense of immediacy and gives the viewer the sensation of being on the rocking barge. This is accentuated by the deeply bitten line and acid marks on the bow. The grainy texture evokes the murky and foggy atmosphere associated with the River Thames in the 19th century.
New conservation work has enabled us to identify the paper Whistler used for these prints. Whistler was very selective about paper. This wasnt unusual. The Etching Revival had instigated a new interest in the aesthetic tone and structure of paper. Following Rembrandts example most etchers preferred Old Dutch paper or silky Japanese paper. Whistler searched stationers and old book shops in London, Paris and Amsterdam looking for these papers. Old Dutch paper was made from boiled and beaten rags drained on wire moulds. It was high quality with a ribbed texture and creamy in colour. Japanese paper was made from the bark of a mulberry tree. It varied in thickness and its tone could vary from pale cream to a pronounced yellow.
The paper used for these prints can be identified by its watermark. A watermark is an imprinted design which can be used to identify the papermaker. The watermark is shown here in transmitted light (lit from beneath the paper). This variation belonged to the Dutch papermakers De Erven de Blauw (imprinted across the centre of the paper) from about 1822.