The Lime-Burner

Impression: Baltimore Museum of Art
Baltimore Museum of Art
Number: 55
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 255 x 179 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' lower right and 'Whistler.' lower left (1); lower left signature faded (2)
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower right
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 103
Catalogues: K.46; M.45; T.38; W.44
Impressions taken from this plate  (103)


It was published as The Lime-Burner in A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames (the 'Thames Set'), by Ellis & Green in 1871.
The publication, and this etching, were reviewed enthusiastically by F. G. Stephens:
'The thoroughly Rembrandtish No. 9, 'The Lime- Burners', a building of rough piles and boards on the edge of the river with a wilderness of ladders, struts and stays, plenty of sunlight and shadow and two dusty - looking figures of men waiting to be employed: it is a masterpiece in its way, so precious is it in respect to chiaroscuro, substance, colour, tones and textures. The reflected lights that hover about the other portions of this etching, the breadth of the strongly illuminated spaces, and the vigour of its obscurer shadows, render it not unworthy of the highest places in the collections of lovers of art.' 15

15: The Athenaeum, 26 August 1871, pp. 280-81.


It was first shown at the Royal Academy in 1860 as 'W. Jones, lime burner, Thames Street'. F.G. Stephens commented 'By this gentleman, whose name is quite new to us, is an admirable series of etchings.' 16 In the following year it was shown with the rest of the 'Thames Set' in London. 17

After publication in 1871, it was shown as 'The Limeburners' by James Anderson Rose (1819-1890) in Liverpool and elsewhere, and by Whistler himself, as 'The Limeburner’s Yard' in London in 1874. 18 In 1879, an impression was exhibited by Craibe Angus in Glasgow. Other print dealer's shows followed, at H. Wunderlich & Co. (1898, 1903) and F. Keppel & Co. in New York and at Obach & Co. in London (1903). Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought one from the 1898 show (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460103). 19

Unusual proofs from connoisseur's collections contributed to exhibitions by clubs such as the Union League Club in New York, lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), in 1881 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460115), and the Caxton Club in Chicago, lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460202 or Graphic with a link to impression #K0460203). 20

It starred in major international exhibitions including Berlin in 1881, the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1888, lent by Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924), 21 the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and the annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1879 and 1902. Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) lent an impression to the 1902 show, which has not been located (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460123). 22

Finally, impressions featured in the large Whistler Memorial Exhibitions including New York and Boston in 1904 and London in 1905 (lent by the Royal Collection and sold shortly after the show). 23

16: 'The Royal Academy', The Athenaeum, 19 May 1860, p. 685. London RA 1861 (cat. no. 943).

17: London Thomas 1861.

18: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 492); London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 18).

19: New York 1898 (cat. no. 41). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

20: New York 1881 (cat. no. 64); Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 42).

21: Glasgow 1888 (cat. no. 2552-2).

22: Berlin 1881 (cat. no. 717); Chicago 1893 (cat. no. 2218). Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 947 (44))

23: Boston 1904 (cat. no. 38); New York 1904a (cat. no. 46); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 44).


A first state of The Lime-burner was among the first of Whistler's etchings to be sold to a public collection. It was then listed as 'Jones Limeburner. Thames Street' 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 #K0460118). 24

Of the early impressions of the first state, the artist gave one to his mother (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460105) and another to a friend, James Reeves Traer (ca 1834- d.1867) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460115)'. 25 He inscribed others to George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460106) and an 'early proof -' to William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460124). However the most notable person to acquire an impression was Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834-1917) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460126).

Among public collections, the British Museum acquired one in 1874 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460125); and Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) sold one ('Der Kalkbrenner') to the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, in 1882 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460114). E.D. Wallace (fl. 1871-1887), American, poet, novelist and writer on art, reported in detail on a visit to the British Museum to see Whistler's works:

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

25: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 44), noted incorrectly that this was inscribed to C. L. Freer.

'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. 26 ... 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, ... "The Limeburners" is considered a happy effort in the portraits of the men, the disposition of light, and the breadth of the treatment of the subject. ... 27

26: This was not actually true!

27: '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.

In an auction at Sotheby's on 22-23 January 1886, 'A very tolerable impression of Mr. Whistler's ''Lime-burners'' sold for £2 16s, and one or other even of the more desirable etchings for somewhat smaller sums', reported The Academy. 28

28: The Academy, 30 January 1886, p. 82.

A 'fine early impression' from the collection of John W. Wilson (dates unknown) was sold at auction in 1887 for £3.3.0, and two early impressions were bought by the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) at the sale of the collection of Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) for £6.10.0 in 1892 - which was about the highest price reached by this handsome etching - and £2.2.0. 29

Some years later, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought a first state from Wunderlich's in January 1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460104) and another, from the collection of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460103). Second states on the whole went to U.S. galleries, and at a later date; for instance one from the collection of Henry F. Sewall (1816-1896) was purchased by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, Harvey D. Parker Collection, in 1897 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460230). In Britain, a fine impression was acquired by Constantine Alexander Ionides (1833-1900) and bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 1901 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460239) and another was among fifteen etchings presented by the Trustees of the Public Picture Gallery Fund to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in June 1904 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0460244).

29: Sotheby's, 22 April 1887 (lot 193); Christie's, 3 March 1892 (lots 94-5).