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Fleur-de-lys Passage

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 360
Date: 1887
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 185 x 82 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 11
Catalogues: K.289; M.286; W.233
Impressions taken from this plate  (11)


baby, clothing, clothes exchange, dog, market, people, stall, street, warehouse.


Variations on the title, spelling and punctuation are as follows:

'Fleur du Lis Passage' (1887/1888, Whistler). 3
'Fleur de Lys - Passage Hounsditch' (890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 4
'Fleur de lis passage Houndsditch' (1886, Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929)). 5
'Fleur de Lys Passage' (1899, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 6

'Fleur-de-lys Passage' is the preferred title, based on Whistler's original title, and the correct spelling of the passageway. Houndsditch, incidentally, is the more usual spelling of the area though Hounsditch is also acceptable.

2: A signboard on the copper plate.

3: List, [August 1887/1888], GUW #13233).

4: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

5: Dowdeswell to Whistler, 23 March 1886, GUW #08678.

6: Wedmore 1899[more] (cat. no. 233).


A narrow alley ends in a tall warehouse with a sign hung under the pitched roof: 'ENTRANCE / TO THE / EX[H]IBITION. / CLOTHES / EXCHANGE'. The high entrance, with a lantern sticking out from the wall at top left, leads to a dark interior, with an arched window at the far side. Dealers sit on each side of the alley with clothes hung on the walls above them. The passage and entrance to the Clothes Exchange are busy with people. In the foreground is a dog, and behind it, to left, there are two women, one of them carrying a child.


Etching: c_K289_01
Fleur-de-lys Passage, London, 2009.
Photograph © M.F. MacDonald, Whistler Etchings Project.
Fleur-de-lys passage was off Wheeler Street, Spitalfields in the East End of London. The City Clothes Exchange was at 3 Cutler Street, London N.E. Mayhew described the area in Victorian times:
'the trade in old clothes used to be carried on entirely in ... the Petticoat-lane district ... adjoining Cutler-street. The chief traffic elsewhere was originally in Cutler-street, White-street, Carter-street, and in Harrow-alley - the districts of the celebrated Rag-fair. Mr. L. Isaac, the present proprietor, purchased the houses which then filled up the back of Phil’s-buildings, and formed the present Old Clothes Exchange. ... there are now two, both adjacent, the first one opened by Mr. Isaac being the most important. ... The goods are sold wholesale and retail ... The second Exchange, which is a few yards apart from the other is known as Simmons and Levy's Clothes Exchange, and is ... wholesale... ' 7
Wedmore described the scene etched by Whistler as 'A ramshackle passageway.' 8 Today, Fleur-de-lys passage is a lonely survivor of Victorian London, and is distinctly under threat from graffiti artists and developers.

8: Wedmore 1899[more] (cat. no. 233).

Etching: c_K289_02
Graffiti, Fleur-de-lys Passage, 2009.
Photograph © M.F. MacDonald, Whistler Etchings Project.


This is one of several etchings of Houndsditch, focussing on Cutler Street and the Clothes Exchange (see also Clothes-Exchange, Houndsditch. No. 1 358, Cutler Street, Houndsditch 361, Melon Shop, Houndsditch 355, After the Sale, Clothes Exchange, Houndsditch 357 and St James's Place, Houndsditch 255).