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The Little Pool

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 79
Date: 1861
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 104 x 127 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at right centre
Inscribed: '1861 -' at lower left (1-8); 'The Works of James Whistler : Etchings and Dry Points, are on View at E. Thomas' Publisher. / 39. Old Bond Street.' across the bottom (1-8); erased (9)
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 9
Known impressions: 76
Catalogues: K.74; M.73; T.48; W.72
Impressions taken from this plate  (76)


artist, barge, boat, man, pier, portrait, port, river, sailing ship, sailors, ship, shipping, sketching, warehouse, wharf, worker.


There are two main differences in known titles, those which mention the Pool (of London) and those that mention Rotherhithe, as follows:

'The Little Pool' (1871, Ellis & Green). 2
'View up the River from Rotherhithe' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 3
'The Little Pool' (1875, Whistler). 4
'From Rotherhithe' (1881, Union League Club). 5
'The Little Pool' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 6

'The Little Pool' is both the original published title and that used by Whistler and the majority of later cataloguers. It has, however, occasionally led to confusion between this etching and The Little Rotherhithe 074.

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

3: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 48).

4: Whistler, [March/April 1875?], GUW #07573.

5: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 100, 101).

6: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 72).


In the foreground at upper left is a pier or wharf on which there are two men in coats and top hats, the one at left standing looking over the shoulder of a seated man, who is drawing the scene. Below them is a barge with men working on it. More barges are moored two and three abreast, with some grounded, all along the shore. The riverbank curves round into the distance at right, lined with wharves and warehouses. In the river at right are two rowboats, and behind them, two- and three-masted ships moored in mid-stream. Subsequent changes, including the addition of a third man at left, are described in STATES.


Ralph Thomas recorded that in the fourth state where there are 'three figures to the left instead of two - the figure standing up [was] intended for the late Serjeant Thomas, the one sitting I sat for, and the other is Mr Whistler, etching.' 7 According to the Pennells, writing much later: 'Mr Percy Thomas, a younger son, has told us that, as a little fellow, he used to go with his father by boat to Wapping, and that his father and brother posed for two of the figures - the third is Whistler - in The Little Pool.' 8 Mansfield, writing a year later, asserted that 'The man standing was Serjeant Thomas; the man sketching, Percy Thomas, and the boy, Ralph Thomas.' 9

Thus all are agreed that the man standing at left is Ralph Thomas, Sr (1803-1862). Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876) is probably accurate in stating that he posed for the young man sitting on the pier itself, who was added in the fourth state. It is worth noting that this young man is wearing a cap or bowler hat, and there are lines suggesting that Whistler considered changing the headgear of the artist to a round hat as well, before reverting to the more formal top hat.

7: Thomas 1874[more], cat. no. 48.

8: Pennell 1908[more], I, pp. 86-87.

9: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 73).

However, there is some doubt about the identity of the man sketching. It is unlikely that it showed the fifteen year old Percy Thomas (1846-1922), as suggested by Mansfield, but at first it does not look much like Whistler either. By the seventh state the man sketching looks more like Whistler, with his moustache and curly hair prominent.
It is quite possible that one of the young Thomas brothers modelled briefly for the sketching figure, but that it was completed with Whistler's features. Whistler used a similar idea, of getting a friend to pose as the artist, and then replacing the head with his own portrait, in The Title Page for 'Douze Eaux Fortes d'après Nature' 022 (reproduced below).
Etching: K0250106
Percy Thomas told E.R. and J. Pennell:
' ... much of the printing was done at 39 Old Bond Street, where the family lived in the upper part of the house. A press was in one of the small rooms, and Whistler would come in the evening ... to bite and try his plates. Sometimes he would not get to work until half-past ten or eleven. In those days, he always put his plate in a deep bath of acid, still keeping to the technical methods of the Coast Survey. Sergeant Thomas, in his son's words, was "great for port wine," and he would fill a glass for Whistler, and Whistler would put the glass by the bath, and then work a little on the plate and then stop to sip the port, and he would say : "Excellent! Very good indeed!" and they never knew whether he meant the wine or the work.' 10


The Pool of London, on the River Thames, London, UK. Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876), who was present when the etching was drawn, gave it the title 'View up the River from Rotherhithe'. Writing much later, but possibly after consulting the artist, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) described it as 'A scene on the Thames below London Bridge.' 11

11: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 48); Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 73).