Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 51
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 152 x 223 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' to right of centre
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower right
Set/Publication: 'The Portfolio', London, 1878
No. of States: 9
Known impressions: 125
Catalogues: K.47; M.46; T.34; W.45
Impressions taken from this plate  (125)


On 15 December 1877 The Academy reported:
'The proprietors of The Portfolio have taken a bold step, but one which will, we have no doubt, be justified by its commercial success, in commissioning from Mr. Whistler what we understand to be a retouch of his famous plate of Billingsgate (Boats at a Mooring) - one of the few plates among the many forming the work of this erratic but original artist which command admiration alike from those who have nothing but praise for the whole of Mr.Whistler's works, and those who do not in regarding them wholly abrogate the critical function. It is not a little indicative, perhaps, of the individuality of Mr. Whistler, that one of his most poetic, perhaps his most entirely satisfactory invention should be connected with a name and a locality to most as so entirely prosaic as that of Billingsgate; but it is at least certain that in the theme here chosen the artist has reached a rhythmic arrangement of line which is of very peculiar and exceptional beauty. We speak of course of the cluster of boats, many-masted and many-roped, which are moored together, and just as this portion of the etching is poetical and delicate , so the part that shows the buildings of Billingsgate is substantial, firm and strong. This work is throughout of enduring interest. A limited number of proofs on Japanese paper have been struck from the plate, previous to its undergoing publication in the usual course in the pages of the magazine; and these proofs appear to be printed with especial care, and are certainly drawn from the plate while it is in irreproachable condition. We learn that Mr. Whistler superintended the printing.' 17

17: 'Notes on Art and Archaeology', The Academy, London, 15 December 1877, p. 562.

Artist's proofs on Japanese paper in an edition of 100, as published in The Portfolio, were also offered by Seeley, Jackson and Halliday, 54 Fleet Street.
On 12 January 1878 The Academy reported further: 'This has, indeed, appeared before, and has won high praise, but is now given its third state, which the artist considers the best, the foreground figures having been effaced and worked upon again with dry-point. In some respects this is perhaps, a gain, but it has probably led to the somewhat blurred aspect of the foreground.'
There was a certain confusion among later cataloguers about which state was published. Wedmore commented that his 'second' state of two: 'was prepared for the Portfolio, whose [proprietors] sold a hundred proofs on Japanese paper before the large magazine issue.' 18 Mansfield, on the other hand, writing in 1909, stated that it was published in Portfolio in his last state, the seventh state of seven 'in January, 1878, after about a hundred impressions had been taken on Japanese paper.' 19

18: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 45).

19: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 46).

In the Pennell's biography they recorded that: 'Whistler told us, Mr Ernest G. Brown, then a very young man in the office of Messrs Seeley and Co., had called on him at 2 Lindsey Row to see about the Billingsgate plate.' 20 In their journal, published later, the Pennells recorded the memories of both Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915) and Whistler:

20: Pennell 1908, I, p. 257.

'Brown of the Fine Art Society ... began life in the Seeleys' office. It was in the days of The Portfolio, and he was sent to see Whistler on some matter relating to the Billingsgate plate, which Whistler sold to The Portfolio. He had no idea he was to see a man in any way extraordinary, and he can remember now the vivid impression Whistler's manner and appearance made on him.' 21

21: Note dated 17 September 1900, published in Pennell 1921C, p. 186.

Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) had originally asked Whistler to let him publish an etching in his first edition of Etching and Etchers; Whistler ignored the request at that time, but agreed to let one be published in the third edition of Etching and Etchers in 1880. 22

22: 'An Unanswered Letter' and 'Inconsequences', in Whistler 1890, pp. 78-79.


It was first exhibited at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1862. 23 Later, it was included in Whistler's own one-man exhibition in 1874, and in exhibitions of the collection of James Anderson Rose (1819-1890) in the same year. 24 James P. Thompson (1846-1897) lent an impression to an International exhibition at Cardiff in 1881. 25

In America in the same year, 1881, an impression was shown at the Union League Club in New York, lent and catalogued by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) as 'Billingsgate Market. The figures are finished.' Avery owned two impressions, an early, greyish, one (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470601) and a richly printed impression of a later state, which was probably the one in the show (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470602). 26 Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) lent one to an exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470703). 27

Other major shows included an international show at Buffalo in 1901 and the annual exhibition in Philadelphia in 1902, the latter lent by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938). 28

Print dealer's shows included H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and 1903. Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), through Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938), bought an early impression from the 1898 show (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470202). 29

After Whistler's death, impressions were exhibited in the significant Memorial Shows including New York and Boston in 1904 and London in 1905. 30

23: Paris Soc. Nat. 1862; see REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

24: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 498); London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 12).

25: Cardiff 1881 (cat. no. 266).

26: New York 1881 (cat. no. 65).

27: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 43).

28: Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 947 (45)).

29: New York 1898 (cat. no. 42).

30: Boston 1904 (cat. no. 39); New York 1904a (cat. no. 47); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 45).


Whistler sold a second state, a fine, delicate print on ivory chine collé (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470203), to the British Museum in 1863 for £1.1.0, writing: 'I forward to you this day by parcels delivery, twelve proofs - etching, and dry points - selected and printed by myself - on Japanese and old dutch paper ... "Billingsgate" [etching] (1st state) very rare' . 31

31: Whistler to W. H. Carpenter, 3 August 1863, GUW #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. ... 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, an old interior, ... 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,... ... After a series of English lake scenes, a stirring picture of "Billingsgate Fish Market", and numbers of beautiful landscape etchings, we turn to the French set, ... [we] wonder at the power of art to produce so many, so varied, and so charmingly realistic effects with an etching needle. 32

32: '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 1877 Whistler made a series of sales of 'Billingsgate', selling one to the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle for £2.2.0, another to J. Hogarth & Sons, and one to Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890). 33

On 2 July 1886, with unusual generosity, Whistler gave an impression of the final state to Henry Nazeby Harrington (1862-1937) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470723). Harrington was a notable collector and connoisseur, and later wrote The Engraved Work of Sir Francis Seymour Haden, 1910. Whistler gave another good impression of the final state - in warm black ink on cream Japanese paper - to Henry Lee Higginson (1834-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470821). In both cases it is likely that he wished to encourage these collectors to buy more of his works.

33: Whistler to Windsor Castle, [19/22 October 1877], GUW #12736; to Hogarth, 22-27 October [1877], #12737; Howell to Whistler, [6-15 November 1877], #02178.

Walter Greaves (1846-1930) is said to have attempted to buy an impression of Billingsgate at the Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) sale, but it went for too much, £5.0.0. He did, however, buy 'a small etching of an old woman seated at the end of a passage ', probably La Vieille aux Loques [27], for 14 shillings (£0.14.0) at the same sale. 34

At auction early states fetched considerably more than the comparatively common later states. At the sale of the collection of John W. Wilson (dates unknown) in 1887 a 'first state, rare' was bought by the London print dealer Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) for £6.16.6. In 1892 a 'second state' from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) was bought by Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for £3.7.6. The collection of William Richard Drake (1817-1890), also sold in 1892, included a 'first state' which was bought by Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915) of Deprez & Gutekunst for £5.5.0. In the following year a less desirable impression was bought by 'Parsons' for only £1.1.0. 35

34: W. B. [William Browne], Greaves, Whistler and Chelsea. A personal note, West London Bookstore, 157 King's Road, Chelsea, 1911, p. 10.

35: Sotheby's, 22 April 1887 (lot 193) and 3 March 1892 (lot 96); Christie's, 8 March 1892 and 8-9 March 1892 (lot 294); Sotheby's, 23 January 1893 (lot 110).

Three impressions in brown ink from the collection of Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) were bought by 'Hutchinson' for £2.4.0 in 1895. A 'second state' from the collection of L. J. Drew, Esq., of Addison Road, sold in 1896 to 'Vokins' for £3.10.0 in the same lot as Cardinal Manning by Mortimer Luddington Menpes (1860-1938) (Whistler, who had rather fallen out with Menpes, would have been shocked at this combination!). Finally, in the following year what was described as 'proof, third state', owned by Mrs Edward Fisher of Abbotsbury, Newton Abbot went to 'Parsons' for only £1.1.0. 36

Whistler's major American patron, Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), acquired a representative group of impressions. First he bought a late impression, an eighth state, in 1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470705). When the collection of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) was shown by H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898, Freer, acting on the advice of Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938), bought a good impression of the second state (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470202). Finally he bought yet another - a fourth state as published - from Wunderlich's in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K0470402).

36: Sotheby's, 25 November 1895 (lot 158); Christie's, 17 February 1896 (lot 103); and 13-14 July 1897 (lot 311).