Old Putney Bridge

Impression: Colby College Museum of Art, Maine
Colby College Museum of Art, Maine
Number: 185
Date: 1879
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 200 x 298 mm
Signed: butterfly at bottom (1-5); shaded (6-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: Fine Art Society, 1879
No. of States: 7
Known impressions: 47
Catalogues: K.178; M.175; W.145
Impressions taken from this plate  (47)


The copper plate was offered for publication to Marcus Bourne Huish (1843-1904). Huish replied on 14 March 1879:
'Many thanks to you for sending for my inspection the Putney Bridge - Its very good but would only go down with the educated in etchings of whom we dont encounter many whereas [the] Hogarth plate will appeal to many who like a clump of old houses & dont care for a tumble down bridge - / So I am afraid that I must deny myself - & say no - / If you publish it I should like to have a copy at 6 guineas less the usual percentage '. 16

16: GUW #01098. 6 guineas was £12.12.0.

The 'Adam and Eve', Old Chelsea, referred to here, was newly published by Hogarth, London print dealers. The price - £6.6.0 - appears to be confirmed in a letter from Whistler on 9 July 1879:
'The price of the new etchings is 6 guineas - To the trade I have said 4. gs. therefore having already sold some on these conditions I offer the same to you - The three proofs then if you care to keep them would come to 12. gs.' 17

17: GUW #01101.

Old Putney Bridge - or Old Battersea Bridge - may have been the plate next offered by Whistler 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 - ... 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 -'. 18

It is not certain when Whistler signed the agreement that the Fine Art Society - despite Huish's initial objections - would publish Old Putney Bridge. However, it was at some time in 1879, and the printing of impressions by Whistler continued between 1881 and 1889.

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


The first exhibitions were in 1879 when impressions of Old Putney Bridge were shown at the Royal Academy, the Grosvenor Gallery and the Dudley Gallery. 19 It was also probably shown in the Manchester 'Black and White Exhibition' of 1879 and certainly in the same show in 1880. A reviewer compared the merits of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), and Whistler, stating,

19: London RA 1879 (cat. no. 1233); London Grosvenor 1879 (cat. no. 285); see REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

'In 892 ''Putney Bridge''' the delicate and suggestive treatment of Whistler is well illustrated; but the etching wants that vigour and personal character of Haden's ''Greenwich''. Nevertheless ''Putney Bridge'' has artistic qualities missed in Haden. In Whistler there is artistic quality of drawing which is not affected in the rugged lines of Haden, with perhaps loss of power to Whistler, and certainly loss of personal character.' 20

20: 'The Black and White Exhibition', Glasgow Herald, 12 August 1880.

In 1880 a Yorkshire journalist noted that in an exhibition in Leeds: 'J. A. McN. Whistler is represented by ''Old Putney Bridge' (366) familiar to all those who have witnessed aquatic contests at that part of the Thames.' 21

Old Putney Bridge was also represented in the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1888, lent by Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924) (probably Graphic with a link to impression #K1780103), 22 and in privately run exhibitions, such as those of the Union League Club in New York in 1881, lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1780414) and the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900, lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1780403). 23

21: 'Yorkshire Art Exhibition. Sixth Notice- The Water Colours', The Leeds Mercury, 29 June 1880.

22: Glasgow 1888 (cat. no. 2552-18)

23: New York 1881 (cat. no. 153); Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 127).

An impression of Old Putney Bridge from his own collection was selected by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938), for an exhibition of etchings in Chicago in 1891, and a couple of years later, it was among fifty etchings proposed for inclusion in the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. 24 It was in several other international exhibitions, including Leipzig in 1895, Buffalo in 1901 and Philadelphia (lent by Manfield) in 1902. In each of these exhibitions it was called 'Putney Bridge' (rather than 'Old Putney Bridge') so it is just possible that it was another etching that was meant.

It was shown in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death, including the show organised by the Copley Society in Boston in 1904, again lent by Mansfield, and the Grolier Club in New York, also in 1904, as well as in Paris in 1905, and, lent from the Royal Collection, in London in 1905. 25 These impressions have not been identified.

24: Mansfield to Whistler, 20 November 1891, and 10 January 1893, GUW #03995, #04000.

25: New York 1904a (cat. no. 146);Boston 1904 (cat. no. 111); Paris Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 350);London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 145).


Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), had a fairly comprehensive collection of Whistler's works, and he continued to collect them even after he and Whistler quarrelled in the 1860s. He often put his initials in pencil on the recto of the etching, prominently, as if claiming part-authorship as well as ownership of the works. Haden acquired an impression of the second state of Old Putney Bridge, and annotated it 'Early proof of finished plate with open monogram - one of first so printed by artist'. This impression was later bought by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938). 26

26: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 175).

Whistler himself encouraged patrons to buy such 'important' etchings as Old Putney Bridge, Old Battersea Bridge [188] and The 'Adam and Eve', Old Chelsea [182]. It was probably one of these that he attempted to sell 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 -'. 27

27: [January/August 1879], GUW #09394.

However, it was obviously easier for the artist if a print dealer took the plate off his hands. Apparently as a result of the successful conclusion of publication by the Fine Art Society, Whistler negotiated a new speculation with H. Wunderlich & Co. of New York. The letter is revealing of the arrangements between artist and dealer:
'I agree to make for Mr Wunderlich two plates of landscape or seaside and figures of about the size of the Putney Bridge this summer, for the sum of 400 pounds, - / Furthermore to print fifty proofs from each in their finished condition for the further sum of sixty pounds - / Of each state of the plates I print two proofs for myself and four proofs for Mr Wünderlich - and of the finished state I print five extra proofs for myself - / The plates themselves I deliver to Mr Wunderlich or his agent - to be filled with either ink or some chemical composition this shall prevent further printing - If this composition be not possible, Mr Wunderlich undertakes that these plates shall not again be printed - '. 28

28: Whistler to H. Wunderlich, 17 April 1889, GUW #10558.

However, as far as is known, Whistler never fulfilled such a commission.
In 1894, when William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900) was in need of money (like his brother earlier), the artist helped him to sell an impression of Old Putney Bridge to Wunderlich's, and reported:
'The three etchings .. brought very little - that is to say not so very little - they went for about their price at the Fine Arts Society - you see they were of the Venice Series - two of them - and the Putney Bridge - The condition of some of them good - much harmed in the mounting - Putney horribly glued down ... I enclose cheque for £17 - 17 - which Mr Kennedy said they came to.' 29

29: GUW #11661.

Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) bought another impression, of the second state, at Christie's on 17 February 1896 for £5.10.0. Wunderlich's also held exhibitions of important collections of Whistler's etchings, including Old Putney Bridge in 1898 and 1903. 30

30: New York 1903b (cat. no. 108), which specified 'Before the dry-point lines in the monogram'.

Sale prices were reasonably high. In 1892, Frederick Keppel (1845-1912), bought one for £7.5.0 at the sale of the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891); in 1896, E. G. Kennedy bought a 'second state' from the collection of L. J. Drew (b. 1840) for £5.10.0, and, in 1897, Colnaghi's bought another from the collection of Mrs Edward Fisher for £9.9.0. 31

31: Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 229); Christie's, 17 February 1896 (lot 104); Christie's, 13-14 July 1897 (lot 314).

Whistler continued to deal directly with both collectors and dealers, in selling the proofs he had kept. Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) asked for an impression in 1902: this seems odd since he had three impressions already, bought in 1897 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1780404) and 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1780102, Graphic with a link to impression #K1780203). 32

32: C. L. Freer, note, [4 September 1902], GUW #11701.

The final sale recorded by Whistler came shortly before his death. On 20 April 1903 he sold two impressions of Old Putney Bridge to the print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851), for £10.10.0 each. 33

33: GUW #13041.