James McNeill Whistler, 1860

WAG 1783

About this object

This was one of Whistler’s most accomplished plates and over 100 impressions were made. Rotherhithe shows a skipper and his mate taking a break at the riverside while smoking their pipes. The dome of St Paul’s can be seen in the far left distance. The out of place vertical line down the centre of the composition was accidently drawn when Whistler was startled by a falling brick. According to Pennell this view is from the balcony of The Angel pub near Rotherhithe looking towards Wapping.

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)
  • Artist(s)
    James McNeill Whistler (American, born:1834-07-10, died:1903-07-17)
  • Date
  • Materials
    Paper; Ink; Etching; Drypoint
  • Measurements
    plate mark: 27.7 cm x 20 cm
  • Physical description
    View of two male figures wearing hats and smoking pipes sitting on a balcony with their backs to a river. Ships with tall masts can be seen behind them and a tall brick building frames the right side of the composition. Buildings line the bank of the river and receed into the distance.
  • Related people
    James Smith (Previous owner) ; James McNeill Whistler (Artist/maker)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 1783; Accession Number: WAG 1783
  • Credit line
    Bequeathed to the Walker Art Gallery 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 1860
    Inscription method: Imprinted
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Front; Lower left; On plate
Object view = Fine Art
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