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Isle de la Cité, Paris

Impression: British Museum
British Museum
Number: 63
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 204 x 294 mm
Signed: 'Whistler -' at lower left
Inscribed: 'Dec. 1859.' and 'Paris de la Galerie d'Op' at lower left
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 11
Catalogues: K.60; M.60; T.19; W.55
Impressions taken from this plate  (11)


barge, bridge, carriage, cart, cathedral, city, horse, island, people, river.


Titles vary, some specifying the viewpoint, and others, the island or bridges viewed:

'Paris de la Galerie d'Ap[ollon]' (Whistler, 1861). 1
'View of Paris from the Louvre' (1872, British Museum). 2
'L'Isle St. Louis, Paris' (Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876), 1874). 3
'Paris. From window of Louvre' (Union League Club, 1881). 4
'Paris: The Isle de le Cité' (Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921), 1886). 5
'Isle de la Cité' (Whistler, 1891). 6
'Paris. Pont des Arts. (Isle de la Cité)' (Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896), 1890/1892). 7
'Isle de la Cité - Paris' (possibly Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), 1903/1935). 8
'Isle de la Cité, Paris' (Howard Mansfield (1849-1938), 1909). 9

Beatrice Whistler added 'Pont des Arts' (the name of the bridge that is in the foreground) to the title, but most writers and cataloguers including Whistler emphasized the island rather than the bridges. The inscription by Whistler on the plate might suggest a fuller title such as 'Isle de la Cité, Paris, from the Galerie d'Apollon', including the most popular elements in the recorded titles. However, the shorter title, Isle de la Cité, Paris, as used by Mansfield, suffices to identify the etching clearly.

1: Etched on the copper plate.

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

3: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 19).

4: New York 1881.

5: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 55).

6: Whistler to Wunderlich, 10 June 1891, GUW #13060.

7: GUW #12715.

8: Envelope containing copper plate, Hunterian Art Gallery.

9: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 60).


In the right foreground are people, horses and carts on the quayside beside the river Seine. Two piers of a light iron foot-bridge (the Pont des Arts) spanning the river are drawn in the middle distance, but the outline is incomplete at the left. Behind this, in the centre, is a narrow jetty in midstream, with figures on the bank by several small barges and a two-deck river-boat. The jetty broadens towards the island, where several trees grow, and ends in a square tower abutting the stone bridge (the Pont Neuf). The river, divided into two channels by the island (the Isle de la Cité), is crossed by five arches on each side of the island. The bridge is crowded with people and carriages. Behind the Pont Neuf rise the four and five-storey tenements of the island, and in the distance, the towers and spire of the cathedral of Notre Dame. On the far side of the river, at left, the river bank and buildings are indicated faintly.


This is a view of the Pont des Arts, Pont Neuf, Isle de la Cité and river Seine in Paris, as seen from the Galérie d'Apollon in the Musée du Louvre. Whistler inscribed 'Paris de la Galerie d'Op' on the plate. He also wrote 'Whistler - Paris.' on one impression ().

Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876) identified the scene as follows: 'View taken from the "Galérie d'Appolon" of the Louvre, showing three bridges over the Seine; the objects are, of course, all reversed.' 10 Wedmore corroborated this, calling it 'A view looking along the Seine; ... taken from a window of the Galerie d'Apollon at the Louvre. ' 11

Mansfield said that on an impression in his own collection Whistler had written 'From a window in Louvre.' 12 However, this has not been confirmed.

10: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 19).

11: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 55)

12: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 60).


In 1883 Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) in his Four Masters of Etching compared the work of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) and Whistler, but Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) in his review of this book commented unfavourably:
'In Haden's "singular power in the suggestion of tree form", Mr. Haden is contrasted with Mr. Whistler, who, we are told, has tried landscape and drawn two trees, one in "Kensington Gardens", and another in the foreground of "Isle St Louis, Paris"; but that tree at least seems of no known form of vegetable growth - it has the air of an exploding shell.' 13
Wedmore later compared the subject and treatment to the work of Charles Méryon (1821-1868):
'This unfinished etching recalls to me Méryon's work, just in its union of reality with artistry - the Paris we recognise, yet the Paris an artist has beheld. Of course Whistler was blithe; Méryon, sombre. I have said of it, in Fine Prints, that though with a date as early as 1859, this plate has distinct and curious manifestations of a style to be more generally adopted by the artist at a later period'. 14
The Pennells were very dismissive of this etching: 'It was his only attempt to rival Meryon, and he succeeded very badly. The fact that he gave it up when half done shows that he thought so himself.' 15 They may be right, but Whisler was not in Paris for long and may simply not have had the opportunity to complete it.

Meryon's 1854 etching, L'abside de Notre-Dame de Paris from the series Eaux-fortes sur Paris 16 is often compared to Whistler's view. Lochnan compared Whistler's Paris etching both with the work of Meryon and with Whistler's London etchings of the same date. She considered 'was probably intended as a tribute to Meryon, and added:

15: Pennell 1908[more], I, p. 83.

16: Delteil, Loys, W., H., Catalogue raisonné of the etchings of Charles Meryon, New York, 1924 (cat. no. 38). Schneiderman, Richard S., Raysor II, Frank W, The Catalogue Raisonné of the Prints of Charles Meryon, London, 1990 (cat. no. 45). British Museum 1862,1011.706, (accessed 2012).

'The aerial view ... recalls such views by Meryon as L'Abside de Notre Dame, Paris,, and Charles Nègre's photograph Paris: Construction of the New Pont d'Arcole Seen from Rue de Lobau, 1855. Intending to capture the flavour of Paris in the winter rather than create an accurate topographical rendition, Whistler did not bother to reverse the plate. The subject with its sharp focus recalls the Thames etchings. In this plate Whistler first explored the decorative possibilities of bridges which would feature prominently in his later Thames etchings.' 17