This is an original etching and drypoint printed in black ink on thin laid paper bearing a portion of an unidentified watermark. Signed in the plate lower right Whistler.
The work is a strong, dark and rich impression of Kennedy's third and final state rinted after the reworking of the sky and the outlining of the smoke from the steamboat in the center, printed with a delicate plate tone throughout, from the edition of approximately 100 published in 1871 by Messrs. Ellis and Green, London, in the series Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects, commonly referred to as the “Thames Set.” Catalogue raisonné reference: Kennedy 76 iii/iii; Mansfield 76; Grolier Club 83; Wedmore 80; Thomas 37. Literature regarding this artwork: Katharine A. Lochnan, The Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, Yale University Press, New Haven London, 1984, no. 152, p. 122 (ill.). After the initial period of two months between August and October of 1859 during which Whistler took up residence in the area of Wapping on the Thames to work on the eight plates that were to become a major portion of the “Thames Set” when they were published over a decade later in 1871, he left for a ten week trip back to Paris where he experimented with the drypoint technique. He returned to London in the spring of 1860 where his initial efforts on the Thames plates were enjoying some success; his etchings “Black Lion Wharf” (K. 42), “The Limeburner” (K. 46) and “Thames Warehouses” (K. 38) were being exhibited at the Royal Academy along with his painting “At the Piano.” Encouraged by the success of these etchings, later in the year Whistler returned to the Thames working for extended periods in an inn near the Wapping steamboat pier.
During this period Whistler received a visit from Sergent Thomas, an elderly lawyer who enjoyed patronizing young artists. As a result of this visit the two entered into a contractual agreement through which Thomas agreed to represent and offer Whistler’s etchings for sale. They began to make plans for Whistler’s first one-man exhibition of etchings which was scheduled to take place the following April at Thomas’s premises at 39 Old Bond Street. Early in 1861 Whistler returned to the Thames and began to etch additional views in preparation for his forthcoming exhibition. Introducing a new theme into his work, he made several studies of bridges. His appreciation for bridges probably began at his father’s side, but he was much more interested in the old bridges which spanned the Thames than in the wonders of Victorian technology with which they were being systematically replaced during the 1860s, 70s and 80s. Whistler had become increasingly interested in portraying atmospheric effects in etching. In “Old Hungerford Bridge,” as well as in a few of the other plates etched at this time, he was not as concerned with describing the bridges as he was with showing the structures transformed by wind and rain. The careful delineation of contour which characterized the Thames etchings of 1859 was replaced in the spring of 1861 by a system of tonal etching in which lines were laid side by side. The character of the line, which can at times be sharp and slashing, shows the influence on etching of his preceding experiments with drypoint. In the etchings of 1860-61 Whistler began to move away from a linear and toward a tonal depiction of nature, away from a meticulous delineation of reality and toward a more suggestive description of its less tangible aspects. This was a most creative period, in which the etchings lack the resolution found in the works of 1859 but anticipate the revolution in depicting nature which was to point the way to Impressionism.
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