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London Bridge

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 172
Date: 1877
Medium: drypoint
Size: 159 x 235 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right (3-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 24
Catalogues: K.153; M.150; W.123
Impressions taken from this plate  (24)


barge, bridge, people, port, river, sailing boat, sailors, steamer, warehouse, wharf.


The title has always been more or less the same, as for example:

'London bridge' (1877, Whistler). 4
'London Bridge' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921))

4: i.e. [10 October 1877], GUW #12734.

5: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 123).


A single arch of London Bridge frames, on the right, several small boats and barges that surround a steamship lying by the wharf, and on the left, in the distance, the far bank with warehouses, derricks and Thames barges by the wharves. In front of the bridge are two men, one standing and one sitting in a small rowing boat, and a couple of barges to right, in front of the bridge. Several people and a horse and cart loaded with sacks are crossing the bridge.


London Bridge was the most famous of the Thames bridges. It ran between the City of London and Southwark. A bridge crossed the Thames here in Roman times, and was replaced several times after destruction by fire, flood, and passing Vikings. It was the only Thames bridge downstream from Kingston until Westminster Bridge opened in 1750.

The new stone bridge designed by John Rennie was started in 1824. The foundation stone was laid in 1825 and it was officially opened on 1 August 1831 when HMS Beagle was the first ship to pass under it. It was widened in 1902, and sold to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, in 1970.

The only part of Rennie's bridge that remains in London is that on the south side, spanning the junction of Tooley Street and Montague Close. The present London Bridge opened in 1973. 6

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica (1911):

6: Peter Murray & Mary Anne Stevens, Living Bridges - The inhabited bridge, past, present & future, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1996; Patricia Pierce, Old London Bridge - The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe, Headline Books, 2001; Peter Jackson, London Bridge - A Visual History, Historical Publications, revised edition, 2002; The London Bridge Museum & Educational Trust at http://; /london; photos (all accessed 2009).

'The present London Bridge ... is as fine an example of a masonry arch structure as can be found. ... The semi-elliptical shape of the arches, the variation of span, the slight curvature of the roadway, and the simple yet bold architectural details, combine to make it a singularly beautiful bridge. The centre arch has a span of 152 ft, and rises 29 ft 6" above Trinity high-water mark; the arches on each side of the centre have a span of 140 ft and the abutment arches 130 ft. The total length of the bridge is 1005 ft., its width from outside to outside 56 ft., and height above low water 60 ft. The ... exterior stones are granite'.
It may be that the proposals to build a new bridge influenced Whistler in his choice of subject. The viewpoint was from one of the wharves immediately by the bridge, possibly London Bridge Wharf itself. Whistler must have been very close to the bridge, sitting on the nearest wharf or a boat or barge moored by the wharf.


The drypoint of London Bridge is one of a series of Thames bridges by Whistler, which vary considerably in scale, technique and compositional devices. For instance the rectangular frame formed by the piers of the old wooden bridge, in another close-up view, Under Old Battersea Bridge 168, are more effective, and complement both the scale and shape of the copper plate.
The composition is dominated by the arch of the bridge, forming a somewhat awkward, asymmetrical composition. A very similar composition is seen in a photograph by Henry Taunt in 1875. The composition is a precedent for one of Whistler's less successful Venetian pastels, The Old Bridge - Winter m0728.
In 1881 Whistler painted a delicate and atmospheric watercolour, a distant view of Swan Pier and the bridge, called London Bridge m0861.