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Greenwich Pensioner

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 40
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 99 x 136 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at lower right
Inscribed: 'Greenwich - 1859.' at lower right
Set/Publication: 'Cancelled Plates', 1879
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 34
Catalogues: K.34; M.33; T.15; W.32
Impressions taken from this plate  (34)


age, clothing, dress, landscape, man seated, park, portrait, tree.


There are several slightly different versions of the title, as follows:

'Greenwich' (1859, Whistler). 2
'Old Greenwich Pensioner' (1874, Whistler). 3
'Greenwich Pensioner' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 4
'Pensioner' (1877, Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890)). 5
'Greenwich Pensioner' (1889, Whistler). 6
'The Greenwich Pensioner' (1903/1935, possibly Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958)). 7
'An Old Pensioner, Greenwich' (1906, Rotterdam). 8
'Old Greenwich Pensioner' (1910, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932)). 9

Whistler etched the place and date on the copper plate but this does not constitute a title. The first published title 'Old Greenwich Pensioner' contains the superfluous word 'old'. 'Greenwich Pensioner' is therefore the preferred title.

2: Etched on the copper plate.

3: London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 45).

4: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 15).

5: Howell to Whistler, [6-15 November 1877], GUW #02178.

6: List, 18 July 1889, GUW #13235.

7: Envelope containing copper plate, Hunterian Art Gallery.

8: Rotterdam 1906 (cat. no. 83).

9: Kennedy 1910[more] (cat. no. 34).


A Greenwich Pensioner, wearing a tall top hat, reclines on the grass. His feet are at lower left and his head, in a tall top hat, is at upper right. He is leaning on his left elbow, holding a slender cane in his left hand. He wears a dark jacket, open over a pale waistcoat, and a broad belt on narrow trousers. His face is shadowed, and lit from the left. In the distance, to left, is a grassy meadow, surrounded by bushes and trees.


The Greenwich Pensioner has not been identified.
The Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich, was built in 1695 and active from 1705. Seamen contributed sixpence a month from their pay towards the upkeep of the hospital. It housed some 2000 old or infirm sailors. Pensioners originally wore a uniform of dark gray with a blue lining and brass buttons. Later this was changed to brown and then blue.
The number of inmates had gradually declined by the time Whistler etched this pensioner in 1859, and in 1860 a Royal Commission proposed the end of in-pensions in exchange for an annuity to all existing inmates. In October 1865, under a new Act, 987 of the 1400 remaining in-pensioners left the Hospital. In 1869 the Hospital closed. Wren's building stood empty until the Royal Naval College moved in from Portsmouth in 1873.


Whistler etched 'Greenwich' on the copper plate. It was drawn in Greenwich Park, London. Whistler also etched the park in Greenwich Park 041, and probably in Nursemaid and Child 042.


At this period Whistler etched a variety of people of different age, character and activities, including a number of old people, such as La Mère Gérard 024, La Rétameuse 026 and La Vieille aux Loques 027.