Charing Cross Bridge

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 348
Date: 1887/1888
Medium: etching
Size: 133 x 97 mm
Signed: butterfly at left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 5
Catalogues: K.310; M.306
Impressions taken from this plate  (5)


Charing Cross Bridge was not published.


In October 1888 the journalist H.W. Sweeney, who wrote under the nom-de-plume of 'Mahlstick' was assaulted in the Fulham Road and died from the 'fearful bodily injuries' incurred. 10 Whistler contributed to the 'Sweeney Relief Fund' established to help his widow and family, and, as President of the Royal Society of British Artists, supported an exhibition to raise money for the fund. 297 works were submitted, including 'an etching, in his daintiest manner, of "Charing Cross Bridge"' by the President. The benefit raised £700. 11

Given the circumstances, most newspapers refrained from criticism. The Bazaar said Whistler's etching 'requires unbounding reverence of its author and the utmost imagination to unravel'. 12 Similarly, the Tablet commented, slightly ironically:

10: News of the World, 11 March 1888; Court and Society Review, 14 March 1888 (GUL PC9/70).

11: London RBA 1888a (cat. no. 262). Evening Post, London, 3 March 1888 (GUL PC9/73).

12: Bazaar, 16 March 1888 (GUL PC9/98).

'The Suffolk street President, lastly, is more arbitrary than usual in his etching of Charing Cross Bridge. An etching from nature ought to be arbitrary; the artist has to choose a very few of the facts before him, and to render them by little more than symbols. He must see two or three significant things, and those must be the genius of the place. But Mr. Whistler has contemplated the genius of Charing Cross in a manner of his own; his notes of what he thinks of it suggest solitude, vegetation, and field growth under a strong wind. But perhaps an Embankment Garden is responsible for this.' 13

13: The Tablet, March 1888 (GUL PC9/73).

Impression: K3100102
Later exhibitions included a print dealer's show, at H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898. An impression, possibly bought from Wunderlich's (reproduced above), was lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K3100102). 14

After Whistler's death impressions were shown in the Memorial Exhibitions, at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904 and in Boston in 1904, and, lent by John Charles Sigismund Day (1826-1908), the London show in 1905. 15

14: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 284). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

15: Boston 1904 (cat. no. 204); New York 1904a (cat. no. 317); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 293).


Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought an impression of Charing Cross Bridge from H. Wunderlich & Co. of New York on 1 May 1888 (Graphic with a link to impression #K3100103). Whistler then sold one to Wunderlich's two days later for £6.6.0, a second for £8.8.0, and a third in June for £6.6.0. 16

Meanwhile Knoedler & Co. bought an impression on 27 July for £6.6.0, and a year later, in July 1889, paid £8.8.0 for a second impression. 17 It was number 7 in the invoice of 27 July, and this number appears on an impression that passed eventually to Lessing Julius Rosenwald (1891-1971) (Graphic with a link to impression #K3100105), and which is reproduced below.

Impression: K3100105

Knoedler's do not seem to have queried the raised price but Wunderlich's were not so accommodating. On 29 August 1888 Wunderlich's had ordered another two, which were sent on 15 September, priced at £8.8.0 each. 18 Wunderlich's promptly complained,

16: Dieterlen to Whistler, 3 May 1888, GUW #07158, and from Whistler, #13051; to Wunderlich, 14 May 1888, #13659 and 29 June 1888, #13052.

17: GUW #13660; #13240.

18: GUW #01764; #13053.

'Your letter of Sept 15th and the etchings were duly received, but you charged us for the Charing cross Bridge £8. 8. -. instead of £6. 6 - as before. We have deducted the difference £3. 7. 3. from the bill and enclose draft on Lazard Brothers for £43. 13. 7. in payment of same.' 19

19: Wunderlich to C. J. W. Hanson, 25 September 1888, GUW #07165.

Whistler and his bride were in Tours on honeymoon, so the artist wrote to his son Charles James Whistler Hanson (1870-1935), who was acting as his secretary:
'Write to Wunderlich and acknowledge the safe arrival of the cheque - Tell him that the price of the little Charing Cross Bridge is 8 guineas - That I say if he originally had it for 6 that does not prevent its going up since - but that never this time as he did not know - only next time he will pay 8 -' 20

20: [6/7 October 1888], GUW #07997.

Hanson accordingly wrote to Wunderlich's that, since they did not know of the increase in price, 'Mr Whistler can only charge you six guineas each for the proofs this time, but in future the price will be eight guineas for each proof.' 21

21: 8 October 1888, GUW #03501.

It was quite a while before Wunderlich's asked for any more impressions, but finally in 1897 they bought another, still at the lower price of £6.6.0, and noted that they had one 'on hand'. 22 Early collectors included Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916), who bought one, possibly from Wunderlich's, by 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K3100102). Finally in 1903, not long before Whistler's death, David A. Kennedy (fl.1895-1915) asked for another impression of 'Charing + Railway bridge'. 23 It is not known if there was one available or if one was sent.

22: [August 1897], GUW #07289.

23: 27 March 1903, GUW #07340.