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Rotherhithe

Impression: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
(1943.3.8442)
Number: 70
Date: 1860
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 278 x 203 mm
Signed: 'Whistler' at lower left
Inscribed: '1860.' at lower left
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 118
Catalogues: K.66; M.66; T.41; W.60
Impressions taken from this plate  (118)

KEYWORD

man seated, public house, river, sailing ship, sailors, shipping, warehouse.

TITLE

There are two radically different titles used by cataloguers, as follows:


'Rotherhithe' (1862, R.A.). 1
'Wapping' (1871, Ellis & Green). 2
'Rotherhithe' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 3
'Rotherhithe' (1874, Whistler). 4
'Rotherhithe' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 5
'Wapping' (1887, Whistler). 6
'Rotherhithe? - 1860. Wedmore - formerly called Whapping' [sic] (1891/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 7
'Rotherhithe (Wapping)' (1900, Caxton Club).. 8


Confusion over the title arises from the etching having been drawn in Rotherhithe on the south side of the Thames - so that the foreground balcony scene is in Rotherhithe - with a view over the river to Wapping on the north bank. There was, incidentally, a similar confusion about the title of the etching The Little Rotherhithe [74] and the painting Wapping [y035].

Most cataloguers in fact decided that the prominence of the Rotherhithe tavern outweighed the distant view, and so called it 'Rotherhithe.'

1: London RA 1862.

2: A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on The Thames.

3: Thomas 1874 (cat. no. 41).

4: London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 15).

5: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 60).

6: Whistler to Fine Art Society, 9 May 1887, GUW #13098.

7: List, [1891/1892], GUW #12715.

8: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 55).

DESCRIPTION

Two men (Mansfield adds, 'of middle age') wearing caps sit smoking long clay pipes, and looking at the viewer. Behind them is the view down the river Thames, with warehouses and docks, and the dome of St Paul's in the distance. Visible between them, in the middle distance, is a beached ship, the mast leaning to left. On the left are the two masts and rigging of a larger vessel, its deck seen from above. 9

9: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 66).

SITTER

The two men have not been identified; they look like sailors or boatmen.
Comparative image
Wapping [y035] (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)
Photograph owned by Whistler, 1892.
Special Collections, Glasgow University Library.
Both Whistler's closely related painting, Wapping [y035], reproduced above, and this etching show the inn balcony in the foreground, with figures seated. In the case of the painting, the figures were Joanna Hiffernan (b. ca 1843), Matthew White Ridley (1837-1888), and a sailor from the Greaves' boatyard.

SITE

According to Pennell and Mansfield, this was etched from a Thames-side pub, 'The Angel, an inn still in Cherry Gardens, Rotherhithe, and ... from the same balcony Whistler painted "Wapping" and "The Thames in Ice." ' 10

10: Pennell 1908 , vol. 1, p. 96; Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 66).

Comparative image
'The Angel', Cherry Gardens, Bermondsey, London, 2010.
Comparative image
The Thames and Tower of London from 'The Angel', Cherry Gardens, 2010.
Photographs © M. F. MacDonald, Whistler Etching Project, 2010.
The pub is actually in Bermondsey, adjacent to Rotherhithe. In the distance St Paul's Cathedral is visible beyond the bend of the river. Tower Bridge now dominates the view up-river from the narrow balcony.
In 1861 Whistler wrote about the difficulties of painting the busy waterway:
'Maintenant par la fenetre on voit toute la Tamise! Le fond qui est comme une eau forte - et qui etait difficile à ne pas y croire! Le ciel par exemple est tres vrai et cranement peint - il y en a un coin qui se voit à travers les vitraux qui est chic! - Plus pret il y a un rang de grands vaisseaux dout un décharge du charbon, et tout contre la fênetre le mat et la voile jaune d'un alège et juste contre la tête de la fille ... il y a le beaupré d'un autre grand vaisseau, dont les cordes et les pullies traversent tout le tableau ... Il y a encore beaucoup de petits bateaux et batiments que je ne puis pas mettre dans l'esquisse ... je t'assure que jamais ai-je entammé une chose aussi difficile - On est sur tu sais de dire que ce n'est pas fini - parce que comme les bateaux s'en vont je n'ai que juste le temps de mettre leurs valeurs en tons ... et bien pour ceux qui ont l'habitude de fabriquer des marines chez eux et de faire poser des cocottes et des joujoux pour vaisseaux de guerre, mes vrais vaisseaux ne seront pas finis -' 11

11: Whistler to H. Fantin Latour, [January-June 1861], #08042.

Translated, this reads:
'Now through the window you can see the whole Thames! The background is like an etching - and was unbelievably difficult! The sky for example is very truly and splendidly painted - there is a corner which can be seen through the window panes which is excellent! - Much nearer there is a row of large boats one of which is unloading coal and right by the window the mast and yellow sail of a lighter and just by the head of the girl ... there is the bowsprit of another large boat, the ropes and pulleys of which go across the whole picture ... There are also many small boats and buildings which I cannot put into the sketch ... I assure you that I have never attempted such a difficult subject - it will certainly be said that it is not finished - because as the boats leave I have only just time to put in their shades of colour ... and for those who are in the habit of making their seascapes at home and painting models and toys for warships my real boats will not appear finished - '
Other artists who worked in this area include W. L. Wyllie (1851-1931), who etched the river frontage, including the The Thames and Angel Tavern at Cherry Gardens, about 1921. 12

12: PW0711 in Portcities London website at http://www.portcities.org.uk (accessed 2012).