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Longshore men

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 52
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 153 x 225 mm
Signed: 'Whistler - ' at lower right
Inscribed: '1859 -' at lower right
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 37
Catalogues: K.45; M.44; T.45; W.43
Impressions taken from this plate  (37)


café, child, drink, interior, man, tavern, woman seated, worker.


It has always been known by the same title, but with a surprising number of variations in punctuation, as follows:

'Longshore Men' (1870s, Whistler). 1
'The Long shore men' (1872, British Museum). 2
'Long Shore Men' (1874, Whistler). 3
'Long Shore Men' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 4
'Thames Longshormen' (1875, A.S.P.W.). 5
'Longshoremen. An interior' (1881, Union League Club). 6
'Longshore men' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 7
'Long-shore men' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 8
'Long-Shore Men' (1898, Wunderlich's).. 9
'Longshore Men' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 10
'Longshoremen' (1910, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932)). 11

Various spellings were used at the time and are acceptable now, including long shore men, longshoremen and long-shore Men. 'Longshore Men' was Whistler's original title for this etching and was confirmed by Mansfield, and is therefore preferred.

1: Inscribed on .

2: B.M. Print Room, Register of Purchases ..., 1872.

3: London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 43).

4: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 45).

5: New York 1875 (cat. no. 520).

6: New York 1881 (cat. no. 63).

7: [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

8: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 43).

9: New York 1898 (cat. no. 40).

10: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 44).

11: Kennedy 1910[more] (cat. no. 45).


Four men, a woman and a child sit around tables in a pub or tavern. The men are wearing caps and three are smoking pipes. One man sits in a chair in the left foreground, wearing a jacket, waistcoat, and kerchief. In the centre, another man sits on a bench in front of the table, leaning forward, his right hand on his chest and his left arm resting on the table, beside a beer-mug. A third is seated at the left end of the table, near a fireplace. The fourth sits behind the table, with the child (holding a small mug) and the woman to right. The room is strongly lit from the right.


Longshore men were casual labourers, working along the Thames riverside and wharves in London. They ranged from scavengers along the 'long shore' of the river banks, to dockers, unloading goods from ships and barges.

Henry Mayhew described visiting Bermondsey in 1849:
'The houses were mostly inhabited by "corn-runners," coal-porters, and "longshore-men," getting a precarious living - earning some times as much as 12s. a day, and then for weeks doing nothing.' 12
Longshore men were in the news at the time of the election of the new Lord Mayor in the autumn of 1859, because they expected to be rewarded for supporting the favoured candidate at the Guildhall. In September 1859 The Times wrote that 'Long-shore men' were considered or considered themselves to some extent 'above the law', and defined them as:
'a number of very dilapidated citizens who may be seen wandering along the banks of the river at low water, and pursuing their researches among the débris of dead dogs, bottles, bones, oystershells, and bits of coal which form the margin of our Father Thames.' 13
They were considered in some ways as archaic, anarchic and anachronistic - but still very much central to Thames mercantile activity. Thomas commented on Whistler's etching; 'Two men occupy a prominent position in the plate and are very characteristic of the Thames Long Shore Men.' 14

14: Thomas 1874[more], op. cit.


It is most likely that it was drawn in an inn or public house, or in a local 'ordinary' (a cheap restaurant) in the Rotherhithe or Wapping area, where Whistler was working on the 'Thames set' etchings. Rotherhithe 070 shows such a pub, the 'Angel' in Cherry Gardens, Rotherhithe. According to the Pennells:
'[Whistler] stayed for months at Wapping, to be near his subjects, ... Mr Ionides recalls long drives, down by the Tower and the London Docks to get to the place, as out of the way now as then. He says Whistler lived in a little inn, rather rough, frequented by skippers and bargees, close to Wapping steamboat pier. ... "When his friends came," Mr Armstrong writes us, "they dined at an ordinary there used to be. People who had business at the wharves in the neighbourhood dined there, and Jimmie's descriptions of the company were always humorous." Mr Ionides drove down once for a dinner-party Whistler gave at his inn: "The landlord and several bargee guests were invited. Du Maurier was there also, and after dinner we had songs and sentiments. Jimmie proposed the landlord's health - he felt flattered, but we were in fits of laughter." ' 15
The companions mentioned were probably Alexander Ionides (1840-1898), Thomas Armstrong (1832-1911), and George Du Maurier (1834-1896).
An alternative site could have been the 'dining rooms' run by Mrs Ann Gregory at No. 4 Smithfield Bars. The 'Bars' were at No. 75 Smithfield, site of the Bull's Head, a pub run by James Keeley. Both a friend of Whistler, 'J. Axenfeld', and Whistler himself owed money to Mrs Gregory; Axenfeld's bill for 18 week's board and lodging came to £26.11.6, Whistler's account, due on 26 September 1859, for only £5.10.0, was settled in the following year. 16 Whistler etched Axenfeld 068 in 1860 - but it is not known if that was the same Axenfeld.

16: Whistler to A. Gregory, [23 April 1860], GUW #01859.


The subject - poor and working-class people in a local tavern - is closely related to the scene in Soupe à trois sous 064.

Lochnan comments: 'In drawing the figures, he used the naïve style which was eminently suitable for working-class subjects. The crudely drawn figures in ...The Longshoremen, ... can be compared to those in Legros's etching Le Souper.' 17

Lochnan also discusses the influence of contemporary opthalmic theories on Whistler and his brother-in-law, Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910). In particular she discusses the possible influence of research by the German scientist Hermann Ludwig von Helmholtz (1821-1894), who invented the opthalmoscope in 1851:

17: Lochnan 1984[more], pp. 85-6, pl. 105, 106. Alphonse Legros (1837-1911), Le Souper, 1852-1875, A. Poulet-Malassis, & A.W. Thibaudeau, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre gravé et lithographié de Alphonse Legros, Paris, 1877, cat. no. 117; British Museum 1875.0612.397, at

'If one looks closely at Black Lion Wharf, Eagle Wharf, The Pool and Longshoremen, it is immediately apparent that while some areas are "in focus," others are "out of focus," and that some fall beyond the range of peripheral vision. An area which is too close to the viewer to be seen clearly while focussing on the middle or far distance is indicated by only a handful of directional or structural lines. ... This approach was ... also applied to shallow picture spaces, as in Longshoremen, where the foreground is virtually omitted, and most objects in these compositions are stationary.' 18