Old Battersea Bridge

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 188
Date: 1879
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 202 x 293 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right (2-6); replaced with new butterfly (6); replaced again (7)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: Fine Art Society, 1879
No. of States: 7
Known impressions: 40
Catalogues: K.177; M.174; W.141
Impressions taken from this plate  (40)


After the publication of The 'Adam and Eve', Old Chelsea [182] by the London print dealer, Hogarth, early in 1879, Whistler tried to sell Old Battersea Bridge and Old Putney Bridge. He wrote to Messrs Dowdeswell:
'I have still for you the plate I spoke to Mr Dowdeswell this morning about - perfectly fresh - and unknown to the public no proofs out except one I am going to send to the Manchester Exhibition of Black & White which would of course be to your benefit in case you went in for it - The plate is a beauty (as far as I am concerned) quite as important as the one Hogarth has acquired, and a little larger - In point of fact I consider my chef d'oeuvre altogether - and if you are going to do any thing at all of this kind you could not have a better chance - ... here I send it to you, and will call tomorrow morning on my way at 10. o'clock to hear your decision - / I want 110. guineas for it and 6 proofs for myself - / Recollect there are none sold as yet - ... You could easily sell the proofs at 6 or 7. guineas - '. 24

24: [May/June 1879], GUW #08612.

Messrs Dowdeswell decided not to publish the plate, but a year later, when Whistler was in Venice, they published two smaller plates, The Two Ships [143] and Tatting [130].
At first Marcus Bourne Huish (1843-1904) of the Fine Art Society had refused to publish Old Putney Bridge [185], but then relented, and followed up with Old Battersea Bridge. 25 Whistler accordingly wrote to E. G. Brown, manager of the F.A.S. on 4 August 1879:

25: Huish to Whistler, 14 March 1879; GUW #01098.

'I will let Mr Huish have the plate of "Old Battersea Bridge" at the same price I originally asked him for the "Old Putney Bridge" - viz. one hundred & ten guineas - / I shall only stipulate for two proofs of the complete condition of the plate - keeping of course one proof of each of the preparatory or trial states for my own private collection - / The plate is a very successful piece of biting in and in perfect working order - / It will give I believe from 40 to 50 proofs without trouble - I will print the first 20 myself - If after this I think that a new state of the plate could be made, I engage to do so for another sum of 10 guineas and three more proofs -'. 26

26: Whistler to E. G. Brown, [4 August 1879], GUW #01102.

On 6 August Huish replied:
'The price of the Battersea was to be the same as the Putney namely eighty guineas - & I understood it to be a commission - / However the plates [sic] a good one & I dont want you to grumble at us as being people who beat you down & so I will get you a check for one hundred pounds tomorrow. // [B]ut we must have all the proofs save two & you must engage not to sell any - / There is a board [meeting] today at which I can get you a check for the £124. 13. 6 if you will let me have know by five o'clock'. 27

27: GUW #01103.

Agreement having been reached, on 13 August 1879 Whistler sent several impressions to the F.A.S.: 'I send herewith - 8 - more p[roofs] ... I have I believe sold one of them [to] Mr Way. 21. Wellington Street. Strand -... I said I believed you would ask six guineas for the proofs - '. 28

28: GUW #02988.

In December 1879 (with Christmas in mind) the F.A.S. published a pretty pamphlet promoting Whistler's forthcoming (they hoped!) Venice etchings, and detailing newly published works, including Herkomer's Portrait of Mr Ruskin and The Blind Shepherd, W. Hunt's The Blessing, Greenwich by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), a portrait of Carlyle by Léon Richeton, Samuel Palmer's The Bellman, and engravings after Turner's Fighting Témeraire and Mrs Allingham's The Young Customers . Whistler's Old Battersea Bridge was, according to the F.A.S. 'Considered one of the best of Mr.Whistler's plates'; 25 proofs were printed by Whistler 'of which a few remain', at £6.6.0 each, and 25 Proofs printed by Frederick Goulding (1842-1909), at the same price, 'The whole signed with Mr. Whistler's Monogram.' The price was average, though larger plates like Haden's were slightly more, at £8.8.0. 29

The price corresponds to that quoted by Wedmore, who described Old Battersea Bridge as: 'One of the noblest, most spacious, most refined of Mr. Whistler's visions of the Thames. It was issued by the Fine Art Society, at £6. 6s.' 30 However, it would appear that Whistler, rather than Goulding, printed the edition.

29: Catalogue in Special Collections, Glasgow University Library.

30: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 141).


One of the early shows was an exhibition of works in black and white at the Dudley Gallery in London in 1880. It met with fairly general approval. The Athenaeum, for instance, on 19 June 1880, asserted that 'Mr. Whistler's Old Battersea Bridge, a characteristic etching, can boast of unusual grace of line and simplicity of composition.' Another reviewer commented: 'Here is Mr Whistler back again,' which was misleading, since he was actually etching in Venice, 'and we are glad to welcome him with "Old Battersea Bridge" (314), full of the atmosphere of the river, barred by the delicate lines of shipping and the masses of the bridge'. 31

When the etching was shown in Birmingham in 1889, a reviewer compared Whistler's technique to the work of Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn (1617-1681):

31: 'The exhibition of works in black and white', Daily News, 1 July 1880; see also The Artist, August 1880, p. 244.

'Mr. Whistler's etchings depend for their effect on line rather than on balance of light and shade, or the tonal values which charm us so perennially in the etchings of Rembrandt. They are marvels of slight and swift expression, ''impressionist'' pieces, records of one, penetrating, comprehensive study, and of a less rapid but unfaltering selection. There are more than thirty of these remarkable etchings in the frames 137 to 141; and we would call attention to 'St James's Street', 'Putney Bridge', 'Battersea Bridge', 'Old Hungerford', 'The Doorway', 'Wapping Wharf' and 'Black Lion Wharf' as happy illustrations of the characteristics...' 32

32: 'The Municipal Art Gallery', Birmingham Daily Post, 4 November 1889 (accessed on-line at British Library, 2008).

A Scottish reviewer mentioned an impression loaned to a show in Peebles, praising the owner as patron and connoisseur: 'Major Thorburn has placed the association under further indebtedness by lending Whistler's ''Old Battersea Bridge'', a Thames reading of quiet beauty and careful detail.' 33

33: 'Peebles Art Exhibition', Glasgow Herald, 29 July 1898.

An impression appeared in an exhibition organised by the Union League Club in New York in 1881, lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770415). 34 Impressions were shown at the Glasgow International Exhibitions: one was lent by Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924) in 1888 (probably Graphic with a link to impression #K1770402); then another was lent by James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901) in 1901 (possibly Graphic with a link to impression #K1770405 or Graphic with a link to impression #K1770402). 35 Another was shown in an exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900, lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770502). Several appeared in other internationals: at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, in Buffalo in 1901 and, lent by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938), in Philadelphia in 1902. 36

It was for sale in several print dealer's exhibitions, particularly by H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and 1903; Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought two impressions from the show (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770404 and Graphic with a link to impression #K1770503). 37 Other print dealers' exhibitions included F. Keppel & Co. in New York in 1899, and Obach & Co. in London in 1903.

After Whistler's death, impressions were shown in several of the Memorial shows including the comprehensive Grolier Club exhibition in New York in 1904. Frank Lusk Babbott (1854-1903) lent an impression to the Boston show organised by the Copley Society in 1904, and Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) lent to the London show in 1905. 38

34: New York 1881 (cat. no. 155).

35: Glasgow 1888 (cat. no. 2552-20); Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 230).

36: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 123);Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 947 (141)). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

37: New York 1903b (cat. no. 104).

38: New York 1904a (cat. no. 142); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 107); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 141).


One of the earliest impressions was inscribed by Whistler, 'Trial rub - cheap! - Aug. 3. 1879 -' but it is not known who snapped up this bargain; it is now in Colby College, Maine (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770104). At first Whistler tried to sell proofs independently. He wrote to William George Rawlinson (1840-1928): 'I have just completed the most important and picturesque etching I have yet done, and am publishing the proofs myself here - and so write to ask if you would care to go in for one - -' 39 Unfortunately this is an extract from a letter that could date from any time between January and August 1879.

39: GUW #09394.

The description 'important and picturesque' could be applied to The 'Adam and Eve', Old Chelsea [182], which was published by Messrs Hogarth early in 1879, or to both Old Battersea Bridge and Old Putney Bridge [185], which were published by the F.A.S. in August 1879. 40 Whistler's letter could have been written before he sold the plates to these print publishers, or he could be referring to another large etching of the period, such as Wapping - The Pool [180], which was never published.

40: M. B. Huish to Whistler, 14 March, 7 April and 6 August 1879, GUW #01098, #01099, #01103.

In 1879 it was published by the Fine Art Society in London and sold at £6.6.0, and was on sale by Robert Dunthorne at the same price in 1881. 41

41: Robert Dunthorne at the Cabinet of Fine Arts, Vigo Street, 1881, p. 23.

Apart from impressions sold by the publishers, many earlier impressions of Old Battersea Bridge were sold, the first at Whistler's bankruptcy sale at Sotheby's, 12 February 1880, being bought with two other etchings for £20.10.0, possibly by Wickham Flower (b. ca 1836), or Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890). A first state sold at auction for £1.16.0 in 1897, while one 'artist's proof' (not necessarily the first state) sold for £3.5.0 in 1887, and another - or possibly the same one - for only £3.0.0 in 1901. 42

An impression of the first state - listed as the '1st proof' - was sold by Whistler for a large amount, £15.15.0, to the print dealer Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) in 1891. 43 Whistler himself sold impressions to another dealer, Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851), in 1902 and 1903 for £12.12.0, suggesting he was a better salesman than the auction houses. 44

42: Christie's, 10 June 1887 (lot 72); 13-14 July 1897 (lot 294); 18 June 1901 (lot 125).

43: Whistler to Frederick Keppel (1845-1912), 13 May 1891, GUW #13068.

44: Whistler to Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851), 24 December 1902, GUW #13040, [20 April 1903], #13041.

Early collectors included Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770404, Graphic with a link to impression #K1770503) and Thomas Way (1837-1915) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770403), all bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919); Leonard Gow (1859-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770405) and Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924) in Scotland (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770402), the latter also owned at one time by John Henry Wrenn (1841-1911) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770402). Atherton Curtis (1863-1944) was the only known collector in France (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770409). In America early collectors included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770415); Alfred Atmore Pope (1842-1913) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770204); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770502); Denman W. Ross (1852-1935) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770407); Mrs Scott Fitz (fl. 1910) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770406); Clarence Buckingham (1855-1913) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770202, Graphic with a link to impression #K1770z08); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770505); Albert W. Scholle (1860-1917) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770304); and Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1770410).