Rag Pickers, Quartier Mouffetard, Paris

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 29
Date: 1858
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 152 x 90 mm
Signed: 'Whistler' at lower right
Inscribed: '1858' at lower right (5)
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 5
Known impressions: 80
Catalogues: K.23; M.23; T.31; W.17
Impressions taken from this plate  (80)


doorway, figure, genre, interior, rags, shop, woman.


Several radically different titles have been used for this etching, as follows:

'Quartier Moufetard' [sic] (1870s, Whistler). 3
'Interieur de Chiffonier' (1874, Flemish Gallery). 4

'The Rag Shop' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 5
'Quartier Moufetard' [sic] (1881, Union League Club). 6
"The Rag-Gatherers'" (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 7
'Rag Pickers - Paris' (1887/1888, Whistler). 8
'Les Chiffoniers' (Rag Gatherers)' (1905, Paris). 9
'Quartier Mouffetard' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 10
'The Rag-Gatherers' (1910, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932)). 11

The etching looked quite different in early and late states- in early states it was indeed 'Interieur de Chiffonier', the interior of a rag-pickers' shop, with no figures included. This makes sense of Wedmore's title, which suggests premises belonging to rag-pickers.

It is simply not possible to reconcile all these variations, although a composite title - Rag Pickers, Quartier Mouffetard, Paris - covers most of the possibilities.

3: Written on Graphic with a link to impression #K0230538.

4: London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 46).

5: Thomas 1874 (cat. no. 31).

6: New York 1881 (cat. no. 12).

7: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 17); note the possessive ' is printed in the catalogue.

8: [August 1887/1888], GUW #13233.

9: Paris Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 298)

10: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 23).

11: Kennedy 1910 (cat. no. 23).


The first state shows an open doorway of rough stone leading into a room with bare walls and wooden rafters, furnished with an unmade bed and small table. There are small metal pots outside the door (one, standing on a little trivet, possibly for cooking with charcoal), and bags or rags hanging at the top left corner.
The composition was radically altered later, with the addition of a girl sitting up in bed, and a boy standing near her (see STATES).


This was first etched in Paris. On one impression of this etching Whistler wrote 'Quartier Mouf[f]etard' (Graphic with a link to impression #K0230401). The quartier Mouffetard is in the fifth arrondissement (the Latin quarter), and is one of the oldest Paris village neighbourhoods, with a popular market. It escaped the modernisation of the city by Baron Hausmann from 1860 on, and was a squalid area, dark, damp and dirty, prone to disease and disorder. A possible derivation for the name of the area is the appropriate word 'moufettes' (skunk), from the appalling smells connected with animal and leather processing, sewage and poor drainage. Nevertheless it was cheap and appealed both to the poorest workers, carters, beggars, hucksters, rag and bone men, seamstresses, and to poverty stricken artists and writers. It was also considered picturesque, and tourists looked upon it as a completely foreign world and a glimpse of another age. 12

12: See Anon., 'Le Quarter Mouffetard', Journal Amusant, 1874, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts 1963.30.18896, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.


Wedmore commented that 'The scene is ... in its silence and squalor, almost as suggestive as the 'Rue des Mauvais Garçons', an etching by Charles Méryon (1821-1868). 13

13: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 17).

Comparative image
The etching, a favourite of Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), is a view of a Paris street from Méryon's series of Eaux-fortes sur Paris, dating from 1854. 14 Unusually for Méryon, it includes two women, silhouetted, talking outside a dark doorway, as well as etched verses which start :

14: Delteil & Wright 27 III, Schneiderman 38 III, British Museum, 1862.1011.692; see

'Quel mortel habitait,
En ce gite si sombre?
Qui donc lá se cachait,
Dans la nuit et dans l'ombre?'
It is perhaps the verses rather than the image that attracted Wedmore's comment. In many ways, in the diagonal lines of the composition, the bold lighting, and dark figures, it is Whistler's Street at Saverne [14] that appears more closely related to Méryon's etching.
The 'realist' nature of the subject was stressed by Lochnan: a bare room with a few rags hung up, emphasizing its bleak poverty. The first state is unusual in not having figures incorporated. If Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876) is correct and the figures were added three years later (at the suggestion of Sergeant Thomas), this implied either that Whistler was dissatisfied with the earlier composition, or that, under pressure, he lacked confidence in it.
This composition is associated with other etchings by Whistler showing a figure or figures in a doorway or interior, La Vieille aux Loques [27], La Marchande de Moutarde [20] and The Kitchen [16]. Of these, La Marchande de Moutarde [20] is particularly closely related in genesis, for one of the original drawings showed only the doorway, while the figures were based on a second drawing (see La Marchande de Poterie à Cologne [m0272], and La Marchande de Moutarde [m0273]).
Lochnan also associates this group of etchings with Dutch art, the paintings of François Bonvin (1817-1887), and the etchings of Charles Jacque (1813-1894), and Jean Baptiste Millet (1831-1906). 15

15: Lochnan 1984, pp. 28, 50, 52, 127.