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Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 51
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 152 x 223 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' to right of centre
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower right
Set/Publication: 'The Portfolio', London, 1878
No. of States: 9
Known impressions: 125
Catalogues: K.47; M.46; T.34; W.45
Impressions taken from this plate  (125)


The earliest known state of Billingsgate is executed in both etching and drypoint, and Whistler maintained the same balance of etching for the architecture, shipping and figures and drypoint for the fine shading of the sky throughout his work on the plate.
After a few minor changes to the copper plate, Whistler removed some details of the figures and increased the drama of the sky with more emphatic drypoint lines. These alterations corresponded with an accident that affected the surface of the plate, resulting in heavy foul biting across and above the tops of the masts. The defects may have been caused by acid spatter or some other type of corrosion.
Despite the extensive damage, Whistler moved forward with the plate, scraping out the most distracting spots of foul biting on the left and retaining the more subtle granular area at the upper right as shading on the sky.

Once the missing parts of the figures were re-etched, the plate was complete, but the etching was not widely circulated until the copper plate was sold to Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) 11 (see Printing, below).

11: Philip Gilbert Hamerton, ed,The Portfolio, An Artistic Periodical, London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, Fleet Street, January 1878, p. 8.


Billingsgate was etched and first printed in 1859. Most extant impressions of Billingsgate were printed for The Portfolio in 1878 and Etching and Etchers in 1880. 12


Of the original printing of 1859, little is known. No impression of the first state has been located. Impressions of the second state were printed in dark brown ink on ivory chine collé () and in black ink on cream laid Japan () and grey Japan (). The third state was printed in black ink, on a dark cream or buff wove paper (, ) and on laid paper (, ). A proof of the fourth state is also in black, on cream laid paper (), and indeed the few impressions of the next three states are all in black ink (, , ).
Nearly twenty years after it was originally etched Billingsgate was published by Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) in 1878. A very good, clean wiped impression of the eighth state was printed by Frederick Goulding (1842-1909) and approved by Whistler, who wrote ''Bon ŕ tirer' on it () before the edition was printed by Goulding. These are original prints, printed from the copper plate, although not printed by the artist. According to Kennedy, an edition of one hundred impressions was printed on Japanese paper, and a further unspecified number were printed and bound in the journal Portfolio. 13

13: Kennedy 1910[more] (cat. no. 47) p. 18.

Several impressions of the eighth state printed on Japanese paper were signed by Whistler with his butterfly (, , ) and probably are from this pre-publication print-run, but they certainly have not survived in the numbers that Kennedy suggests. Other impressions of the eighth state are printed in dark brown ink on pale cream wove paper () and on dark cream laid paper (), and in black ink on ivory wove paper (), but these were not signed by the artist.
Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) published Billingsgate, in this eighth state, in the January 1878 issue of The Portfolio, printed on contemporary laid paper that can be either cream or ivory in colour. Some sheets of paper used for the 1878 volumes of The Portfolio bear watermarks of the Van Gelder paper mill, either an arabesque or escutcheon, which is difficult to decipher, or the words 'VAN GELDER' and 'PORTFOLIO'. The sheet size of Portfolio impressions, as issued, is approximately 217 x 355 mm, and the etching was inserted next to page 8 of the text, where Hamerton discussed the print briefly. 14

14: Philip Gilbert Hamerton, ed.,The Portfolio, An Artistic Periodical, London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, Fleet Street, January 1878, pp. 8-9.

Hamerton published Billingsgate again, in 1880, in the third edition of his book Etching and Etchers, opposite page 231. The etching, in its final ninth state, was printed for this edition on heavy-weight ivory 'modern' (post-1800) laid paper. The sheet measures about 205 x 308mm, as issued, and there is often offsetting on the back of the sheet from type on the next page of the book. Impressions for Etching and Etchers are printed in black ink with light overall platetone, although the edges of the image are wiped clean of tone within the platemark and often slightly within the bevel. Many impressions of the ninth state are still bound in the book (i.e. ).
Billingsgate was published a third time in A Group of Etchers by S.G.W. Benjamin in 1882. 15 Impressions for A Group of Etchers are on 'modern' cream laid paper that measures approximately 285 x 432 mm, as bound. They are printed in black ink, with very pale plate tone that extends to the platemark, across the beveled edges of the image. The volume is unpaginated, and Billingsgate appears among the etchings in the back half of the book. Some are still bound in the book, some have been removed (i.e. , ).

15: S.G.W. Benjamin, A Group of Etchers, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1882, n.p.

It appears that the copper plate's life extended beyond the three publications, as the latest impressions show foul biting along the top bevel that was not present in the 1882 printing. Furthermore, the cancelled plate was sold to the Toledo Museum of Art in 1927 by Albert Rouillier Art Galleries, Chicago. 16 This is an indication that it had been in the hands of printsellers for at least some of the time after its last official publication in 1882.

16: The Toledo Museum of Art, Documentary Sheet for cancelled plate, acc. no. 1927.57.

There are only a few impressions of the first seven states, over a dozen of the eighth, and over fifty of the final state in public art collections. It is not known exactly how many impressions were printed for publication. Most were bound into volumes of The Portfolio and Etching and Etchers and are still in libraries. However, many of these etchings have been cut out of the volumes, and trimmed to various sizes, and these appear regularly on the market and in public and private collections.