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Little Putney Bridge

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 186
Date: 1879
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 132 x 207 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right (2-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: Printseller's Association, 1879; F. Wedmore, 1883
No. of States: 5
Known impressions: 56
Catalogues: K.179; M.176; W.146
Impressions taken from this plate  (56)


There is some confusion about which firm published what in 1879. The Athenaeum announced on 14 June 1879:
MESSRS COLNAGHI & CO have sent us three etched views on the Thames by Mr Whistler, being 'Putney Bridge', 'Battersea Bridge', and 'View near Fulham'. The first, although but a very slight and telling sketch, is marked by the delicate and brilliant feeling of the artist for the elements of his subject, the varying solidities of the bridge and its reflections on the water. The second contains more matter, and shows a balance of parts and tones, as in the group of house on the right and the neighbouring foliage, with the shimmering lights on the water. The third shows barges, their sails hanging on the sprit, lying amid boats and close to the shore, with a range of houses and many trees behind. The water is luminous in all these stretches, peculiarly so in the second; the dark reflection in the third give a more striking force to the effect. These are works which must vary prodigiously in quality according to the state of the plate. 8

8: The Athenaeum, 14 June 1879, p. 769 (our italics mark the relevant passage).

The Athenaeum appears to have muddled the descriptions and titles, which fit Little Putney Bridge, Hurlingham [184] and Fulham [181], but the identification is not absolutely certain.
Another review of Whistler's etchings mentions 'three specimens, published by Mr McLean; ... views of the Thames about Mortlake, ... evidently ... done in the boat in which he was sitting to take them' being published by Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832). 9 It is possible that Whistler was trying to evade the bailiffs, raising money by publishing his copper plates, in these months before he was declared insolvent. The Art Journal complained, 'They supply, however, proofs of his heedlessness, for, as he has not taken the trouble to reverse the sketches, the several objects depicted are all on the wrong side of the river.' 10

9: Art Journal, 1879, p. 99.

10: Ibid.

In any case, Little Putney Bridge was being printed by August 1879 and was stamped by the Printseller's Association and published, possibly by the Fine Art Society, London, as 'Putney Bridge' (e.g. Graphic with a link to impression #K1790201).
Little Putney Bridge was certainly published by Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) in 1883 (e.g. Graphic with a link to impression #K1790206). 11 Wedmore later commented: 'Early impressions issued by the Fine Art Society at £3.3s. I then obtained the plate for the limited edition of my Four Masters of Etching, because I thought it gave extra-ordinarily, in its considered slightness, the sense of spaciousness and sunshine.' 12

11: Wedmore 1883 D, after p. 36.

12: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 146).


It was first shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in London in 1879, and for the first time in America at the Union League Club in New York in 1881, lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904). 13

It also appeared in print dealer's exhibitions, particularly at H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and 1903. and at Obach & Co. in London in 1903. 14

13: London Grosvenor 1879 (cat. no. 272); New York 1881 (cat. no. 149).

14: New York 1898 (cat. no. 125); New York 1903b (cat. no. 109); London Obach 1903 (cat. nos. 119, 120).

It was shown in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death, at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904, by the Copley Society in Boston, also in 1904, and, lent by H.R.H. the Princess Victoria, in the Whistler Memorial exhibition in London in 1905. 15

15: New York 1904a (cat. no. 147); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 112); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 146).


Little Putney Bridge was mostly sold through the Fine Art Society after publication in 1879, and in the volume published by Wedmore in 1883. Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), for instance, owned one of the 1879 edition (Graphic with a link to impression #K1790201). First and second states were on sale by another London print dealer, Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851), in 1881, priced £3.3.0 and £1.1.0 respectively. 16

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

The British Museum acquired a richly inked impression of the first state in 1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1790104). Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought what he apparently thought was the 'first trial proof printed', but it was actually a second state before the Printseller's stamp (Graphic with a link to impression #K1790205).
It was rarely sold at auction during Whistler's lifetime. However, an impression was probably sold from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891), at Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 when Lot 313, 'Putney', was bought by the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for £1.12.6 and Lot 230, 'The Little Putney', by 'Baddeley' for £1.15.0.
Many impressions of the etching as published by the Fine Art Society and later, by Wedmore, were acquired by American collectors, and made their way by gift or bequest to public collections, particularly in America.