The Pool

James McNeill Whistler, 1859

WAG 676

About this object

'The Pool' 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 Pool’ refers to the stretch of water between London Bridge and Rotherhithe, the furthest point a large ship could reach. Whistler has cut off the central figure, a compositional device perhaps inspired by the early trials of amateur photography.

Whistler also experimented with compositional techniques and three-dimensional representations influenced by Japanese artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). Here he flattens the picture space and raises the horizon line to give a sense of recession. A diagonal is formed by the moored boats in the foreground, leading the eye into the middle distance.

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 beehive watermark. A watermark is an imprinted design which can be used to identify the papermaker. The beehive watermark is shown here in transmitted light (lit from beneath the paper). The beehive is associated with the Honig (honey) family of Dutch papermakers who owned mills in Zaandijk, North Holland. The coat of arms on this watermark was widely copied throughout the Netherlands and came to represent Dutch papermaking more generally. Initialled DEDB (beneath the beehive) this variation belonged to the Dutch papermakers De Erven de Blauw from about 1822. The design shows a central beehive motif surrounded by ornate scrollwork of leaves and flowers crowned with a fruit tree.

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    James McNeill Whistler (American, born:1834-07-10, died:1903-07-17)
  • Date
  • Materials
    Etching; Drypoint; Ink; Paper
  • Measurements
    plate mark: 13.8 cm x 21.5 cm
  • Physical description
    A dock scene with a male figure wearing a cap sitting in a rowing boat in the immediate foreground slightly to the left of the composition. Further vessels are moored in a row behind him and warehouses line the water's edge which curves into the distance from right to left.
  • Related people
    James Smith (Previous owner) ; James McNeill Whistler (Artist/maker)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 676; Accession Number: WAG 676
  • Credit line
    Bequeathed to the Walker Art Galllery by James Smith of Blundellsands in 1923
  • Location
    Sudley House, First Floor, Special Exhibitions Room
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections


Previous owners

  • James Smith

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1923
    Disposal method: Bequeathed to the Walker Art Gallery


Item inscriptions

  • Inscription text: Cooper / St George's Wf / New Crane to Let
    Inscription method: Etched
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Front; On warehouses
  • Inscription text: Whistler 1859
    Inscription method: Etched
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Front; Lower left, On plate
  • Inscription text: JANE No 6)
    Inscription method: Etched
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Front; Lower centre; On boat
Object view = Fine Art
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