Old Westminster Bridge

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 47
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 76 x 204 mm
Signed: 'Whistler' at lower left
Inscribed: '1859' at lower left
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 75
Catalogues: K.39; M.38; T.36; W.36
Impressions taken from this plate  (75)


Old Westminster Bridge was published in A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames (the 'Thames Set'), by F. S. Ellis of Ellis & Green in 1871.


It was first exhibited with the 'Thames Set' at the shop of Edmund Thomas (1842-1883) in London in 1861. 15 In the following year, it was shown with the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris and at the International Exhibition in London, followed by the Royal Academy in 1863. F.G. Stephens praised Whistler's prints at the Academy: 'they deserve noble places and will reward pains taken to obtain a sight of them. ... Old Westminster Bridge is ruined by its position. It treates air and light with all that mystery of Art which nothing expresses as well as etching or drypoint.' 16

15: London Thomas 1861. ; see REFERENCES : EXHIBITIONS.

16: London RA 1863 (cat. no. 952); [F.G. Stephens], 'The Royal Academy', The Athenaeum, No. 1856, 23 May 1863, p. 688 (in GUL PC1/17).

After publication in 1871, it was shown by James Anderson Rose (1819-1890) in a touring exhibition in Liverpool and elsewhere, and by Whistler himself in London, in 1874. 17

Impressions were shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1879 and by private clubs for connoisseurs and collectors such as the Union League Club in New York to which one was lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) in 1881 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390101). 18 Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) lent his impression to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390203). 19 An impression bought by the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Dresden, was included in an exhibition of newly acquired works in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390109). 20

Other impressions were exhibited by print dealers including Craibe Angus in Glasgow in 1879; Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) of Keppel & Co., New York, in 1902; H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and (twice) in 1903; and Obach & Co. in London in 1903. Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought two from Wunderlich's in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390102, Graphic with a link to impression #K0390103). 21

After Whistler's death impressions were shown at the Memorial Exhibitions, including the Grolier Club in New York in 1904 and one lent by Francis Bullard (1862-1913) to the Copley Society show in Boston in 1904, which were followed by the Memorial show in Paris in 1905, and - lent from the Royal Collection - one shown in London in 1905. 22

17: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 489); London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 11).

18: New York 1881 (cat. no. 54).

19: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 35).

20: Dresden 1900.

21: New York 1898 (cat. no. 34)

22: New York 1904a (cat. no. 38); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 31); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 36).


A first state of Old Westminter Bridge was among the first of Whistler's etchings to be sold to a public collection. It was among 16 etchings sold for a total of £10.10.10 by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) to South Kensington Museum on 1 January 1861 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390110). 23

Haden kept several impressions of the first state, which were sold by Wunderlich's of New York to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), one in 1891 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390104) and two, with the advice of Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390102, Graphic with a link to impression #K0390103). Haden's impressions were fine and interesting ones, but they were not signed or inscribed by Whistler; instead, Haden put his initials on them.

Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) bought one impression, possibly directly from Whistler (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390101), as did William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390105), and in both cases Whistler annotated the impressions, thus accentuating their unique quality and enhancing their value.

23: V&A Register of Prints, p. 32.

Constantine Alexander Ionides (1833-1900) acquired a good impression of the second state, which was among the fine 'Thames Set' bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1901 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390240). Whistler himself had sold a very modest impression of the second state, with little burr, to the British Museum in 1863 for a small sum, £1.1.0 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390212). 24

24: Whistler to W. H. Carpenter, 3 August 1863, GUW #11109.

Ten years later the price had doubled, and an 'early proof on Dutch paper' from the collection of Arthur Thomas (dates unknown), was sold for £2.2.0, but on the other hand, in 1892 the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) paid only £1.16.0 for a 'first state' from the distinguished collection of Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891). 25

Some early proofs undoubtedly fetched better prices. One, listed as 'first state, with four very small horizontal lines just above the roof of the Houses of Parliament, very rare' from the late John W. Wilson (dates unknown) collection, sold in 1887 for £6.6.0 to another print dealer, Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832). 26

In Scotland William Craibe Angus (1830-1899) asked Whistler to select works for Thomas Glen Arthur (1858-1907), and he agreed:

25: Sotheby's, 23 June 1873 (lot 131), and 3 March 1892 (lot 85); also Whistler to S. P. Avery, [1873], GUW #10628.

26: Sotheby's, 22 April 1887 (lot 186).

'Mr Whistler will be pleased to let you have picked proofs for a choice collection like the one Mr Arthur proposes for himself - and I am to say that at this moment he is very much occupied with etching - producing new ones - and printing them with a view to future exhibition'. 27

27: C. Hanson to W. Craibe Angus, 9 May 1887, GUW #00169.

Apparently Whistler bought back an impression from Edmond Gosselin (1849-1917) in France for 80 francs and sold it to Craibe Angus for Arthur, at a price of £6.6.0, and then, later in the year, bought a second impression from Gosselin, who seems to have had them in store. 28

In 1897 Boston Museum of Fine Arts acquired a slightly damaged second state (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390210); Boston Public Library managed to obtain a better impression (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390211). An impression of the first state was acquired by the Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden, from V. Straeter for 70 DM in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390109) and Colnaghi's of London sold a second state to the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, in 1902, for £5.5.0 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390209).

28: Whistler to Craibe Angus, 9 May 1887, and [8 August 1887], GUW #13098, #13045; and reply, 26 August 1887, #00175; Whistler to Gosselin, [28 December 1888], #13076.

Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) of F. Keppel & Co. sold an impression from the cancelled plate (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390z22) and the plate itself to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1896, and gave a similar set to the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris in 1903 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0390303).