Battersea Dawn (Cadogan Pier)

James McNeill Whistler, 1863

WAG 1587

About this object

'Battersea Dawn (Cadogan Pier)' 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'.

Cadogan Pier is a pontoon pier for River boats and pleasure boats. The ferry or ‘penny boat’ called there regularly and it was the nearest stop to Whistler’s house.

After a seven year break, the publication of the Thames Set in 1871 seemed to reawaken Whistler’s enthusiasm from etching. However it wasn’t until 1879, shortly after a libel dispute with the art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Whistler’s subsequent bankruptcy, that he received a significant commission from the Fine Art Society. The resulting two ‘Venice Sets' became perhaps his most celebrated and accomplished works, but were only possible through his exploration and study of the Thames.

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)
    Early Morning (Battersea)
  • Artist(s)
    James McNeill Whistler (American, born:1834-07-10, died:1903-07-17)
  • Date
  • Materials
    Paper; Etching; Drypoint; Ink
  • Measurements
    plate mark: 11.4 cm x 15.2 cm
  • Physical description
    View of a river at low tide with a pier and footbridge at the left of the composition. Sailing vessels and rowing boats occupy the water and another bridge is faintly visible further along the river. Buildings line the opposite river bank in the distance.
  • Related people
    James Smith (Previous owner) ; James McNeill Whistler (Artist/maker)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 1587
  • 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
    Inscription method: Printed
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Front; Lower left
Object view = Fine Art
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