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Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 51
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 152 x 223 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' to right of centre
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower right
Set/Publication: 'The Portfolio', London, 1878
No. of States: 9
Known impressions: 125
Catalogues: K.47; M.46; T.34; W.45
Impressions taken from this plate  (125)


fishing boats, barge, bridge, cart, clocktower, market, people, river, shipping, steps, wharf, worker.


This was usually called 'Billingsgate' by Whistler and later cataloguers, as in the following examples:

'Billingsgate' (1863, Whistler). 1
'Billingsgate Market' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 2
'Billingsgate' (1878, Portfolio). 3
'Billingsgate Market' (1881, Union League Club). 4
'Billingsgate' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 5

'Billingsgate' is the preferred title, accepted by the majority of cataloguers.

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

2: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 34).

3: The Portfolio..., P. G. Hamerton, ed., January 1878, vol. 9, f. p. 8.

4: New York 1881 (cat. no. 65)

5: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 45).


In the left foreground are two men (one wearing a hooded cloak to protect his head and shoulders) standing in front of three seated men at the stern of a barge. Behind them, a man stands at the corner of the landing, in front of a row of tall timber baulks that line the Billingsgate Wharf. Behind him, to left, figures and a laden cart climb the steps to the crowded embankment in front of the clock-tower and buildings of Billingsgate Market.
To right of the landing a line of ten fishing boats with lowered sails are moored to a chain from a wooden pier that is just visible at far right. Figures pass back and forth over the decks. The masts of more boats are seen in the distance to left. Behind the ships three arches of London Bridge are visible, and in the misty distance, buildings on the far bank, with a square church tower at right.


The clock-tower and buildings of Billingsgate Market on the north bank of the River Thames, with London Bridge to right, and the tower of St Saviour's, Southwark, in the distance at right (all seen in reverse, as usual, in the print).
Lochnan notes that among Whistler's etchings of the Port of London, 'The most westerly site chosen was Billingsgate fish market, probably etched from Custom House Stairs.' 6

6: Lochnan 1984[more], p. 83.

Britain's largest inland fish-market was originally established in the streets near Billingsgate Wharf at the north end of London Bridge. It was based at Lower Thames Street, in the City of London. The original building, built in 1849, was demolished in 1875 and replaced with an arcaded market hall. The market closed in 1982.


Widely published and well-received, this etching was cited by H. Stewart Cundell in arguing that an etching was a complete and finished work of art:
'Among [Whistler's] latest works may be noted a retouched plate, "Billingsgate," an etching one "state" of which appeared in the January number of the Portfolio. Mr Hamerton said of it, somewhat unkindly, "It was executed entirely from nature, and must therefore be considered as a sketch or study." We confess we cannot see why it should be so considered. It is an exceedingly vivid and powerful etching, to which, in all probability, the artist would have added no single extra touch in any case, and it is certainly one of the finest plates that has been published in the periodical since it started. Such an original work is to our thinking worth scores of reproductions of pictures which, in many cases, might just as well have been executed with the burin as with the etching needle.' 7
A few years later it was again given as an example of the validity of working on site. The amateur etcher Arthur Evershed (1836-1919) had recommended using a mirror to look at etchings that had been drawn on site, in order to recognise the actual orientation of the scene. In a review of Evershed's Etcher Rambles, a set of prints published by Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832), a critic wrote, 'It is better, we think, to accept frankly that the subject is reversed - as is the case after all with a good many etchings of quite high quality; notably, for instance, with the famous Billingsgate of Mr Whistler.' 8

8: The Academy, 19 November 1881, p. 390.