Thames Police

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 53
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 153 x 229 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at lower right
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower right
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 81
Catalogues: K.44; M.43; T.43; W.42
Impressions taken from this plate  (81)


Thames Police 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.
F.G. Stephens reviewed the publication enthusiastically, commenting on this etching:
'No. 2 'Wapping Wharf', a subject in which none with eyes for the picturesque in form, composition, and chiaroscuro can fail to delight greatly. Old bay-windows, tall brick and boarded structures, flights of rough steps, chimneys of wondrous irregularity, high-pitched tile roofs, skiff drawn on shore, rigging and masts of many kinds of craft, and monumental piles that stand half in, half out of the water, dormers, stages of many lengths and barges in rank and file, are elements which the artist has treated with skill so consummate that one could linger for an hour over the etching.' 15

15: The Athenaeum, 26 August 1871, p. 280. I am grateful to M. Hopkinson for this reference.


Thames Police was exhibited with the 'Thames Set' in London in 1861. 16 Shortly afterwards, it was shown in the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris, in 1862. After publication in 1871, it was shown in a travelling exhibition by James Anderson Rose (1819-1890) in Liverpool and by Whistler himself, in London in a one-man show in 1874. 17 In subsequent years impressions were exhibited in Glasgow by William Craibe Angus (1830-1899) in 1879 and at an international exhibition in Wolverhampton in 1902.

Across the Atlantic, it starred in several important American shows, in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. Two impressions of 'Thames Police. Wapping wharf', one a 'Trial proof; very rare' (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440101) and the other 'The same. The sky, etc, finished.' (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440312) were lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) to the Union League Club, New York, in 1881. 18 Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) lent an impression to the exhibition held by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440202). 19

16: London Thomas 1861; see REFERENCES : EXHIBITIONS.

17: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 496); London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 14)

18: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 61-2).

19: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 40).

It also appeared in various print dealer's shows, particularly those of H. Wunderlich & Co. (1898, 1903) and F. Keppel & Co. (1902) in New York & Obach & Co. in London (1903). 20 Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought one from the Wunderlich show of 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440204).

Finally impressions were exhibited in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death, in Boston and New York in 1904, and, lent by King Edward VII, to the London Memorial show in 1905. 21

20: New York 1898 (cat. no. 39).

21: Boston 1904 (cat. no. 44); New York 1904a (cat. nos. 44a, b, c); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 42).


A second state of The Pool 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 #K0440216). 22

The next recorded sale was two years later when Whistler sold a third state to the British Museum. He actually described this as the second state, one of 'twelve proofs - etching, and dry points - selected and printed by myself - on Japanese and old dutch paper' (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440324) 23 The British Museum also bought a second state in 1868 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440206). Another third state of Thames Police arrived later, having been bought originally by a British collector - William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) - and which Whistler signed and inscribed misleadingly as 'Early proof - 1st. State -'! (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440305).

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

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

E.D. Wallace (fl. 1871-1887), American, poet, novelist and writer on art, reported in considerable detail on a visit to the British Museum to see Whistler's works:
'let us go to the temple of art and science, and, provided with a "reader's ticket," and "special admission to the print room," we find in a row of elegantly bound folio cases, labeled "Etchings of British Artists," the jealously guarded works of Mr. Whistler, of Baltimore. We are cautioned by the clerk, who unlocks an immense case of pictures handsomely mounted on gilt edged boards, "to handle the treasures carefully," for there are no duplicates if those exquisite drypoints, and the British Museum is the only place in the world where they can be seen. We groan inwardly and are ashamed to confess we are Americans who must come to England to discover the merits and distinctions of our own people swallowed up in the British art schools. ... The very first glance at Mr. Whistler's etchings is sufficient for a lover of art to learn that every picture is copied from nature direct, and each subject has its characteristic point brought out by a master hand. Whether a river scene in open daylight, or a cabaret by lamplight, ... all are fully expressed, boldly or delicately, as the fancy may seize the artist, and every touch of the needle leaves a striking detail of the perfect composition of a rare genius. ...There are twenty views at least of the Thames and its bridges, some full of life and movement - steamboats puffing and paddling up and down the stream, crowds of foot-passengers eagerly pushing their way over the river thoroughfares and vessels loading and unloading their freight on the banks and wharves of the river. Others are sluggish in character - heavy barges drifting away with slack chains, entangling other smaller boats in the floating meshes; watermen lolling in easy indolence on the sunny part of the dock, half-heeding and half unconscious of the scene around them while they gaze off into the perspective of city and river, where the spire of Westminster or the dome of st. Paul's ends the charming vista. A fine drawing of "Wapping Wharf" is more minute in finish than many of Mr. Whistler's etchings. The tiles on the roofs, old, curled-up, smoked tiles of fifty years ago, and the more modern earthen shingles are prettily contrasted on the miniature warehouses. The entire view is so full of steps, windows, signs, barrels, cordage, sails, piers, piles, that one is almost bewildered by the variety, just as he would be on the spot where the artist made his picture. ... [we] wonder at the power of art to produce so many, so varied, and so charmingly realistic effects with an etching needle. 24

24: 'Mr Whistler's Paintings', Baltimore Gazette, after 1 April 1876, in GUL PC1/75; partially quoting E.D. Wallace, 'The Fine Arts Abroad', Forney's Weekly Press, Philadelphia, 1 April 1876.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bought a second state from the the collection of Henry F. Sewall (1816-1896), in November 1897 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440208). A few years later, an impression was sold by Obach & Co., London, to the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, 1902, for £9.0.0. (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440207). These were among the earliest public collections to acquire etchings.
An early 'Thames set' owned by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), was later sold by Wunderlich & Co., New York, with the help of Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938), to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1898. It included a fine impression of the second state on cream Japan paper (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440204, similar to Graphic with a link to impression #K0420203). Freer already owned an impression on ivory laid paper, bought from Frederick Keppel & Co., New York, in 1888, but originally from a French collection (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440203), and one in a set of cancelled etchings, bought from Keppel in 1896 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440401).
Another second state from a French collection, that of Alfred Beurdeley (1847-1919), was probably sold with his collection (19-20 May 1920); it was acquired by James A. McCallum (1862-1948), who gave it to the University of Glasgow in 1939. Both George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909), and Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), could have acquired their impressions of the third state in Paris or London (Graphic with a link to impression #K0440303, Graphic with a link to impression #K0440312). These went with their collections to the New York Public Library, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.