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

The Pool

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 49
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 140 x 217 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at lower left
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower left
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 85
Catalogues: K.43; M.42; T.47; W.41
Impressions taken from this plate  (85)


barge, boat, church, man, river, warehouse, rowing boat, sailing ship, shipping, steamer, wharves .


Variations on the title are as follows:

'Lighter, Jane No 6' (1861, V&A). 1
'The Pool' (1863, Royal Academy). 2
'From Tunnel Pier' (1863, Whistler). 3
'The Pool' (1871, Ellis & Green). 4
'The Pool' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 5

The etching was published as 'The Pool' in the 'Thames Set' in 1871 and all subsequent cataloguers used this title.

The earliest title, 'Lighter, Jane No 6', may have been suggested by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), and was based on the inscription on the boat in the foreground of the etching, but is a peripheral part of the subject. Whistler's use of 'From Tunnel Pier' may be geographically correct but is confusing because this is not the only etching done in that area.

1: 1 January 1861, V&A Register of Prints, p. 32.

2: London RA 1863.

3: Whistler to W. H. Carpenter, 3 August 1863, GUW #11109.

4: A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames.

5: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 47).


In the foreground a man sits in a rowing boat facing the viewer. He wears a loose jacket or blouse and a neckerchief. Short bushy hair escapes under the peaked cap that shades his eyes. In the first state, there was a large barge behind the man, at the left, and behind that, a tall sailing ship with bare yards, and at the right, derricks and poles, including a pole with a triangular device at upper right, and warehouses, with a few windows and an arched detail sketched out. Further away, riverside buildings, a spire, towers and chimneys, recede into the distance at the left. For later radical changes to the composition, see STATES.


The Pool of London is the stretch of the river Thames between London Bridge and Rotherhithe, and marked the furthest that big ships could go up-river. It is divided into the Upper Pool (between London Bridge and Tower Bridge) and Lower Pool (from Tower Bridge to Cherry Garden Pier in Rotherhithe).
The signboards etched by Whistler in state 2 indicate the site of St George's Wharf. One sign reads 'COOPER', but unfortunately that is a common name: for instance, Cooper & Aves, dealers in preserved and salt provisions at 134 Leadenhall Street, had a warehouse at 78-80 Wapping Wall, and John Cooper, warehouse keeper for wool and similar goods, was based in Upper Thames Street.
In 1863 Whistler listed The Pool as 'From Tunnel Pier'. 6 A pedestrian tunnel had been constructed between Rotherhithe and Wapping so that tall ships were not barred by a bridge from entering the Pool. The Thames Tunnel was a popular attraction, with decorative murals, shops, and a 'refreshment room'. 7 Tunnel Pier was near the tunnel entrance in Wapping, and was where Customs officials were stationed to board ships entering the Port. It was thus a busy and comparatively safe position from which to work, and as a viewpoint, was also used by Whistler for Thames Warehouses 046. Whistler also made a small etching of the Pool, called The Tiny Pool 167, and a very large one, called, Wapping - The Pool 180.

6: Whistler to W. H. Carpenter, 3 August 1863, GUW #11109; see .

7: W. O'Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859, at / thames / thamestunnel.htm (accessed 2008).


Lochnan comments perceptively:
'Whistler structured his compositions around the workingmen whose lives were intimately connected with the river, and who lived ... around Wapping and Limehouse. In three of the most dramatic plates, Eagle Wharf , Black Lion Wharf, and The Pool, he placed them front and centre ... and made them disproportionately large in the picture space. They stare out at the viewer, making no apologies for their low social status or unkempt condition. They are never idealized, but are one with the landscape which is a physical extension of themselves. The working men of Wapping and their venue provided Whistler with a most appropriate realist subject: it was contemporary, it was working-class, it combined the elements of seascape and cityscape, and it was above all novel.' 8
She also relates the composition in these three etchings to that of ukiyo-e prints:
'It is divided into three horizontal zones running parallel to the picture plane, representing foreground, middle ground and background. The background appears to recede largely because of repoussoir devices. The composition is anchored in the foreground using a large figure seated on a wharf or in a boat. The middle ground, against which the figure is silhouetted, is unworked, and reads as water. ... The use of diagonal directional lines helps to link the three planes, and introduces a dynamic element into the composition. The ... diagonal line formed by the lighters filled with coal in The Pool, [leads] the eye into the composition. ' 9
More specifically, Lochnan compares it to Shinagawa: The Departure of the Daimyo from The Fifty-Three Stages of the Tokaido, 1833-34, by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858):
'Like Hiroshige, Whistler flattened the picture space and raised the horizon line to create a sense of recession. A dramatic diagonal formed by the moored boats divides the foreground and middle ground into two triangular wedges, and leads the eye into the middle distance, just as the row of houses does in the print of Hiroshige. A foreground repoussoir element in the form of a man in a boat is found in the Whistler, and a steep bank in the Hiroshige. In the woodcut, patterned areas are juxtaposed with flat areas of "colour," which are translated in the etching into areas of tone and void. The cutting off of the foreground figures at the margin, a characteristic of the Japanese print, was used in The Pool by Whistler, who terminated his figure at the ankles. This device creates the same sense of immediacy which characterized amateur photography.' 10