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Thames Warehouses

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 46
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 77 x 204 mm
Signed: 'Whistler' at lower right
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower right
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 5
Known impressions: 63
Catalogues: K.38; M.37; T.42; W.35
Impressions taken from this plate  (63)


barge, cathedral, dome, riverscape, shipping, steamer, warehouse, wharf, worker.


Several titles for this etching were authorised by Whistler, and there were numerous later variations, as follows:

'The Thames, from the Tunnel Pier' (1860, Royal Academy). 2
'Frederick Vink, Wharfinger' (1861, V&A). 3
'Thames Warehouses' (1862, International Exhibition). 4
'Thames Warehouses' (1871, Ellis & Green). 5
'Thames Warehouses' (1870s, Whistler). 6
'Thames Warehouses' (1874, Whistler). 7
'View of the Thames from Thames Tunnel Pier' (1874, James Anderson Rose (1819-1890)). 8
'View up the River' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 9
'Ware houses on Thames' (1870s, Whistler). 10
'Thames Warehouses, from Thames Tunnel Pier' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 11
'Fred. Vinck & Co.' (1897, Christie's). 12

The title 'Thames Warehouses', as published in the 'Thames Set' in 1871, is preferred.

In Whistler's one-man exhibition in 1874, there were two related etchings, one called 'Thames Tunnel Pier' (which is The Pool 049) and this one, 'Thames Warehouses' (cat. nos. 16, 20). There can be an element of confusion in the titles of etchings drawn at the same site. Tunnel Pier was in Wapping, giving a good view of the Pool of London, and was the viewpoint used by Whistler for The Pool as well as Thames Warehouses. It may be that Whistler himself spotted the possible confusion and eliminated all mention of Tunnel Pier.

The title 'Frederick Vink, Wharfinger', recorded in 1861, may have been suggested by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), and was based on the sign on the nearest building at left. In 1897, Christie's used a similar title, 'Fred. Vinck & Co.' Although this does distinguish the etching from others, it is only one of several signboards, and cannot be said to describe the subject fully.

2: London RA 1860 (cat. no. 944).

3: 1 January 1861, V&A Register of Prints, p. 32.

4: London Int. 1862.

5: A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on The Thames.

6: Written on .

7: London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 16).

8: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 493).

9: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 42).

10: Written on .

11: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 35).

12: 13-14 July 1897 (lot 312).


A view of the river Thames, with, in the foreground, a laden barge on which a man is standing. A skiff poled by two men is emerging to right of its prow. To left is a long row of riverside warehouses, three and four storeys high. The sign on the nearest building reads 'FRED VINK & Co / ROPE & SAIL MAKERS'; on the next, 'SMITH & SON / HERMITAGE COAL WHARF'; and on a dark warehouse beyond them, 'HORE'S WHARF'. The buildings recede into the distance, where the dome of St Paul's is visible, and just to left of it, a small steamboat, possibly a tug, belching smoke. Sailing ships, Thames barges and smaller barges are moored in front of the warehouses to left, with men at work loading and unloading. More ships are moored in midstream, with the south bank of the Thames visible at far right.


The signs recorded by Whistler indicate that this was a stretch of the London docks backing onto Wapping High Street. James Smith & Son, coal merchants, were based at Hermitage Coal Wharf; their postal address was 343 Wapping High Street. The Hermitage Coal Wharf later became the Hermitage Steam Wharf, from where the London and Edinburgh Shipping Company ran regular services to Leith. Peter Hore was recorded in the Postal Directory as Wharfinger at Hore's Wharf. 'Fred Vink' does not appear in the directory. 13

13: Street directory, London Postal Directory, 1859.

In his Thames etchings Whistler focussed on the area of docks from East London Lime Wharf (241-2 Wapping High Street), past the entrance to the Thames Tunnel, Tunnel Steam Packet Pier, Wapping Dock Stairs, Wheatsheaf Wharf (at No. 233 Wapping High Street), Shap's wharf, Execution Dock Stairs, Phoenix Wharf, the Thames Police Station (No. 255 Wapping High Street), Aberdeen Steam Wharf (at No. 257), Baltic Wharf (Tyzack Whitely and Co. at Nos. 266-7), Eagle Wharf (at No. 269), Hermitage Wharf (at No. 343), Watson's Wharf, and Hore's Wharf.
Thomas described this etching as a view 'From Thames Tunnel Pier' and Wedmore's title corroborates the site as 'Thames Warehouses, from Thames Tunnel Pier'. 14 Tunnel Pier was in Wapping, and Customs officials were stationed there to board ships coming into London. This viewpoint was also used by Whistler for The Pool 049, but looking the opposite direction.

14: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 42); Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 35).

Tunnel Pier got its name from the Thames Tunnel, which connected Wapping and Rotherhithe. W. O'Daniel described the Thames Tunnel, originally planned by I. K. Brunell and completed in 1841:
'two shafts, fifty-five feet in diameter, and seventy-five feet deep; placed one of each side of the river ... Over each shaft is built a rotunda thirty feet high ...painted with landscapes ... including a very good painting of Niagara Falls. ... The Tunnel is ... twelve hundred feet long ... - it is of no use except to foot passengers, and the expenses of gas and attendance are met by charging a toll of one penny on each visitor .... under the middle of the river is a refreshment room, ... A thin brick ceiling over head, ... with water trickling from the ceiling ... and steamers, ships and barges sailing along far above you! - ' 15


Whistler would have known and could well have been influenced by the panoramic views of the Thames by Wenceslaus (Wenceslas, Wenzel) Hollar (1607-1677), with their extremely narrow horizontal format. Examples include Hollar's A True and Exact Prospect of the Famous Citty of London from S. Marie Overs Steeple in Southwarke in its flourishing condition before the fire and London from ye top of Arundell House. 16

Lochnan commented : 'two small plates, Thames Warehouses ... and Old Westminster Bridge, ... which recall both in subject and style Hollar's views of London along the Thames, ... were well represented in the Haden collection.' 17

An ecstatic 1913 commentary on Thames Warehouses, published in an American Art Association sale catalogue, reads:
'Here there is evidenced as close an adherence to topographical fact, to local truth, as if Hollar himself had been the etcher - but the needle, how constantly expressive, and, one might say, sometimes, how witty! - and the drawing of what decision, and of what finesse! The life of the River, half a century ago - the River "below the bridge," with the quaint warehouses and taverns, the wherries, barges, clippers, all the waterside population - lies before us, realized so fully, and yet with its appeal to the imagination, in these brilliant and exquisite pages … What charm of the receding "coastline" - so to say - in the little 'Thames Warehouses' 18

16: M.DC.LXVI, Museum of London, acc. no. A24656; copy after Hollar, ca 1646, BM 1868,0822.337, R. Pennington, A descriptive catalogue of the etched work of Wenceslaus Hollar, Cambridge, 1982, no. 1011.II; F. W. H. Hollstein, The New Hollstein: German engravings, etchings and woodcuts 1400-1700, Amsterdam, 1996, no. 460.II (Hollar).

17: Lochnan 1984[more], p. 76.