James Abbott McNeill Whistler
, American, 1834 - 1903
Material and Medium: etching on paper
Dimensions: Mount: 406 x 317mm
Support: 377 x 463mm
Accession Number: CGSG00002
This etching was used by Whistler for a set of prints called ‘Sixteen Scenes on the Thames and other Subjects’, published in 1871. He made the original drawing at the ‘Angel’, a pub in Rotherhithe, and first called it ‘Wapping’, the area just across the Thames.
Whistler was influenced by Charles Baudelaire, a French writer who thought artists should paint ‘modern life’ life in cities, finding beauty in subjects that most people would find off-putting. London’s dockland area exemplified this and in 1863 was described as ‘mean, shabby and unpicturesque’ and bearing ‘an aspect of unredeemable decay’. It would not have been put into art by most artists of the period, but Whistler wanted to capture truthfully the spirit of London’s east end.
There is a vertical line inked into this etching that seems out of place. Accounts suggest that it was caused by Whistler swerving to avoid a falling brick whilst engraving the plate.