Home > The Catalogue > Browse > Subjects > Etchings > Etching

From Billingsgate

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 165
Date: 1876/1877
Medium: drypoint
Size: 152 x 229 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right (6-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 8
Known impressions: 28
Catalogues: K.168; M.164; W.130
Impressions taken from this plate  (28)


It is pure drypoint. Radical changes in the composition and detail were made at several stages during the development of this subject, reflecting the coming and going of the shipping and workmen. Whistler original intended to include a tall sailing ship at left, but he spent a lot of time rubbing and burnishing it out and replacing it with another ship, presumably because the original ship had sailed away.


It is possible that Whistler kept a record of printing this etching in 1877. In records of sales a code was used, but it is not always entirely clear what it means. For instance, an invoice to Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), on 19 October 1877, includes 'From Billingsgate Oct 16 th No. 3' which may mean that it was the third impression printed on 16 October 1877. 9 A sale to Messrs Hogarth on 22 October includes another impression similarly coded, as '(Oct 16th -) No. 1 x', which implies it was the first proof printed on that 16 October. 10

It seems likely that Whistler also wrote the numbers on the prints themselves. One impression of the fourth state is annotated in pencil, '5 - x' on the recto (). There is the possibility that the 'x' was a mark of quality, or possible selection for an exhibition, but unfortunately not enough evidence has survived to confirm this. The number '5' may mean that at least five impressions were printed in October 1877.

9: 12 October-5 November [1877], GUW #12735.

10: 22-27 October [1877], GUW #12737.

Only single impressions of the early states exist, plus three of the seventh state and one of the final state, which suggests that most were printed in 1877, in a comparatively short space of time. There may, however, be more impressions of these states to be located.
Impressions were printed in black ink on ivory laid paper with the beehive and DEDB watermark (); on cream laid paper, possibly with a 'HCH' countermark (); cream laid De Erven De Blauw watermarked paper (); and ivory laid paper with 'IV' countermark (). Later impressions were printed in dark brown - nearly black - ink on ivory laid paper with the Arms of Amsterdam watermark (, removed from a book, and ); and cream laid with a countermark (); and in black ink on ivory laid paper with Pro Patria watermark () and the final state on ivory 'antique' (pre-1800) laid paper, with an unclear watermark (). Thus there is a high proportion of water- or counter-marked papers.
It was published in an album of Cancelled Plates ('Cancelled Set') by The Fine Art Society, London, 1879 in an edition of at least 20 and possibly 24. Cancelled impressions were printed in black ink, one on cream wove paper (), but most on laid paper including 'modern' (post-1800) laid paper with 'Van Gelder' watermark (, ) and laid paper with a partial crown watermark ().