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Temple Bar

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 175
Date: 1877
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 214 x 137 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 5
Catalogues: K.162; M.159; W.133
Impressions taken from this plate  (5)


arch, architecture, cab, city, gate, horse, , people, sculpture, street.


It was called 'Temple Bar' by Whistler, his friends and his cataloguers, for example:

'Temple Bar' (1877, Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890)). 3
'Temple Bar' (1878, Whistler). 4
'Temple Bar' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 5

3: Howell to Whistler, [6-25 November 1877], GUW #02178.

4: Whistler to A. J. Chapman, 9 August 1878, GUW #07966.

5: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 133).


In the first state Temple Bar is barely indicated. The view, as seen in the third state, appears to have been taken looking down the middle of a street from a horse-drawn cab, with the back of the horse's head and body in the right foreground. Another horse and cart is further back on the left, and a horse-drawn coach and cab are going through Temple Bar in the centre. The broad central arch is flanked by arched doorways; and on the upper floor, a central arched window is flanked by statues in arched niches, between pillars; it is topped by a low semi-circular pediment. Two- and three-storey houses are sketched in to right and left, on each side of the gate, and a few pedestrians are roughly indicated to right.


Etching: c_K162_01
Temple Bar, 1870s, photograph.
Society for Photographing Relics of Old London.
Temple Bar stood on the Strand next to the Temple Law Courts and marked the western boundary of the City of London. The gateway, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and built of Portland stone, was completed in 1672. It was originally adorned with four royal statues (Charles I, Charles II, James I and Anne of Denmark) carved by John Bushnell.
In 1874 it was discovered that the keystones had dropped, and plans were developed to demolish it. The 'Society for Photographing Relics of Old London' was established to record such threatened buildings and sites. On 6 July 1877 the Times reported the Society's publication of Old London, the first of a series of albums of photographs, and asked the public to 'give intimation ... of the intended demolition of interesting buildings ... in good time.' 6 The first set of twelve photographs included two views of Old Houses in Wych Street (Nos. 7-8) and Old Houses in Drury Lane. The second set included Temple Bar (No. 19), taken from almost exactly the same position as Whistler's etching (the correct way round, whereas the print is of course reversed).

6: 'Archaeology and photography', The Times, London, 6 July 1877, p. 4.

On 16 November 1877 the Times reported on plans to demolish Temple Bar, and widen the street 'as far as is practicable'. 7

In 1878 the City of London Corporation dismantled Temple Bar, numbering and preserving the stones. In 1880, Henry Bruce Meux (1857-1900) bought the stones at the instigation of Valerie Susan Meux (1847-1910) - this was shortly before Lady Meux posed to Whistler for her portrait. The arch was re-erected as a gateway at his house, Theobalds Park, in Hertfordshire.

7: 'Temple Bar', The Times, London, 16 November 1877, p. 9.

Etching: c_K162_02
Temple Bar, Paternoster Square, London, 2011.
Photograph © M.F. MacDonald, Whistler Etchings Project, 2011.
It was purchased by the Temple Bar Trust from the Meux Trust for £1.0.0 in 1984, dismantled, and re-erected as an entrance to the Paternoster Square redevelopment north of St Paul's Cathedral, which opened to the public in 2004. 8

8: 'Temple Bar', City of London website, (accessed 2009).

Etching: c_K162_03
Temple Bar, St Paul's, 2011.
Photograph © M.F. MacDonald, Whistler Etchings Project, 2011.


Temple Bar was the only surviving London City Gate, and was a long-established subject for prints and paintings. Some 18th century prints including Burning ye rumps at Temple Barr (1726) by William Hogarth (1606-1669) showed the heads of criminals displayed above the bar. 9

Later views showing it as a decayed but picturesque corner of London included John Wykeham Archer's etching, Old Bulk Shop, Temple Bar, published in Vestiges of Old London by David Bogue in 1851. 10 A friend of Whistler, Percy Thomas (1846-1922), made a topographical etching and drypoint study of Temple Bar, in 1868, which shows the Bar from a similar viewpoint to that used by Whistler. 11 A view of the bar, showing that the gate was a serious obstruction to traffic, appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1870.

In 1877 the 'Society for Photographing Relics of Old London' began publication of a series of photographs. The second set included a photograph of Temple Bar (No. 19), taken from almost exactly the same position as Whistler's etching. This coincided with newspaper reports of the planned demolition of the Bar. Thus Whistler's etching was a record of a famous London landmark that was threatened with demolition. As such it is one of several prints documenting a vanishing London. It is not clear if Whistler was interested in the preservation of ancient buildings or merely saw them as potentially lucrative subjects.

9: British Museum Prints and Drawings, S,2.16; see website at (accessed 2009).

10: British Museum, BM 1851,0614.24.

11: British Museum 1873,0712.960 and 1873,0712.961.

Sir Henry and Lady Meux, who bought the gate and re-erected it at Theobalds Park, were patrons of Whistler, who later painted several portraits of Lady Meux.
Charles John Watson (1846-1927) etched Temple Bar in his series London Thoroughfares in 1876, published in 1880 in The Portfolio. 12 Like Whistler, he appears to have been in the middle of the street - a compositional device used by some of Whistler's younger contemporaries, such as Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) in the etching The Burning of the Japanese Exhibition in Knightsbridge of 1885 and Sidney Starr's painting The City Atlas of 1889. 13

12: British Museum 1939,0620.18; Museum of London id: 142851.

13: Etching, The Hunterian; oil, National Gallery of Canada; Robins 2007[more], pp. 146-147, figs. 160, 163.