The Lime-Burner

James McNeill Whistler, 1859

WAG 1782

About this object

'The Lime-Burner' 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'.

One of Whistler’s most celebrated prints, The Lime-Burner was described by the art critic F G Stephens as “thoroughly Rembrandtish” (1871). The lime-burner William Jones, featured in the print, had premises on Wapping High Street. Limestone was burned in kilns to produce lime for conditioning soil and for quicklime used in mortar and plaster. Like the etching process, lime-burning came with the risk of poisoning and burns.

Whistler has flattened areas of the composition and organised them in a series of ‘frames’ to emphasise depth and perspective. These frames are defined by dark over-worked areas being placed beside light areas that are left virtually untouched.

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

  • Other title(s)
    The Lime Burners; W. Jones, Lime-Burner, Thames Street; The Lime-Burner's Yard; Thames Limeburners
  • Artist(s)
    James McNeill Whistler (American, born:1834-07-10, died:1903-07-17)
  • Date
  • Materials
    Etching; Drypoint; Ink; Paper
  • Measurements
    plate mark: 25.3 cm x 17.7 cm
  • Physical description
    Interior view with river and ships visible in the far distance. A male figure highlighted by above lighting leans on a barrel in the middle distance surrounded by ladders. The foreground is framed by a low ceiling and walls cast in shadow. Another male figure can be seen at the end of the tunnel leading towards the river.
  • Related people
    James Smith (Previous owner) ; James McNeill Whistler (Artist/maker)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 1782; Accession Number: WAG 1782
  • 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: WHISTLER 1859
    Inscription method: Printed
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: On plate; Lower right
  • Inscription text: Whistler [very faint]
    Inscription method:
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Front; Lower left
  • Inscription text: 2875 S
    Inscription method: Pencil
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Base; Centre; Front; Below plate
  • Inscription text: IN 1782
    Inscription method: Pencil
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Base; Front; Lower right; Below plate
Object view = Fine Art
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