'Old Hungerford Bridge' 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'.
The Old Hungerford foot bridge was replaced by a railway bridge that led into Charing Cross Station in 1864. Whistler shows workers on the bridge during its renovation, with the Houses of Parliament visible behind.
Whistler’s first experience of the River Thames was in 1843 when he and his family travelled to Russia to join his father. En route, they sailed from Boston to Liverpool, visiting relatives in Preston, before travelling to Hamburg via London. Boatmen rowed the Whistler family along the quiet Thames by lamplight in the predawn mist. This was a vision of the River Whistler was to recreate for the rest of his life.
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.