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Old Battersea Bridge

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 188
Date: 1879
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 202 x 293 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right (2-6); replaced with new butterfly (6); replaced again (7)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: Fine Art Society, 1879
No. of States: 7
Known impressions: 40
Catalogues: K.177; M.174; W.141
Impressions taken from this plate  (40)


barge, boat, bridge, Japonisme, people, river, riverscape, sailing boat, warehouse.


There are small variations in title, mostly concerning whether the bridge was old or not, as for example:

'Old Battersea Bridge' (1879, Whistler). 3
'Old Battersea' (1881, Union League Club). 4
'Battersea Bridge' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 5
'Battersea Bridge' (1887/1888, Whistler). 6
'Old Battersea Bridge No. 1' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 7
'Old Battersea Bridge' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 8

The bridge was not only old, it was being replaced, so the title 'Old Battersea Bridge' is appropriate. Although Beatrice Whistler's numbering is understandable - since there were several etchings of the bridge - it is not needed here.

3: 3 August 1879, GUW #13008.

4: New York 1881 (cat. no. 155).

5: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 141).

6: List, [August 1887/1888], GUW #13233.

7: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

8: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 174).


The gently curving sweep of old Battersea Bridge, with five of the great wooden piers, and including the broad central span, takes up the top half of the plate. There are figures and, at right, a horse and cart, on the bridge. A flat barge with square sail is seen to right through the central span. Beyond it is the far bank of the river Thames, with trees, offices and warehouses; and in the far distance at right, between the right hand piers, are more warehouses, cranes and small boats.


Battersea Bridge crosses the river Thames in London, between Chelsea and Battersea.
The old timber bridge dated back to 1771-1772, and was built by John Philips under the direction of Henry Holland. In 1879 it was described in the Times as 'one of the old-fashioned timber structures, which will before long have to be removed and a new bridge built in its place.' 9

9: 'Freeing the Bridges', The Times, London, 24 May 1879, p. 12.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette's bridge was built to replace it, between 1886 and 1890. The old bridge was closed to traffic in 1883 and demolished in 1890. Lochnan suggests that the subject was one of several that reflect Whistler's 'preservationist instinct which led him to record vanishing parts of dockland.' 10

10: Lochnan 1984[more], pp. 179-180.


This is one of several important etchings depicting the Thames bridges, including Old Westminster Bridge 047, Vauxhall Bridge 075, Westminster Bridge in Progress 077, Old Hungerford Bridge 076, Chelsea Bridge and Church 102, London Bridge 172, Old Putney Bridge 185, and Little Putney Bridge 186.
It may be that Whistler considered etching the bridges of both Paris and London, and thus competing with, or completing, the subjects explored by Charles Méryon (1821-1868) and Whistler's mentor, Auguste Delâtre (1822-1907). However, the only Paris bridge etched by Whistler was not completed (Isle de la Cité, Paris 063).
In Venice in 1880 Whistler continued to explore the theme with etchings like The Bridge, Santa Marta 201 and Ponte Piovan 220. Finally, in Amsterdam, he included several bridges, such as Bridge, Amsterdam 447 and Little Drawbridge, Amsterdam 448.
Between 1859 and 1879 Whistler portrayed the old Battersea Bridge in drawings, etchings, lithographs, lithotints, paintings, as well as on a folding screen and on one wall of his house in Chelsea.
Etching: c_K177_04
Blue and Silver: Screen, with Old Battersea Bridge y139,
Distemper and gold paint on brown paper
laid on canvas stretched on back of silk, 1871-1872,
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow (46379).
Etching: c_K176_02
r.: Nocturne: Battersea Bridge; v.: Standing Female Nude m0484,
chalk and pastel, 1872/1874,
Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
Etching: c_K177_01
The Broad Bridge c011, lithograph, 1878,
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow (49017).
Etching: c_K177_02
Old Battersea Bridge, No. 2 c013, lithograph, 1878/1879,
Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
Etching: c_K177_03
Old Battersea Bridge c018, lithograph, 1879, 1887.
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow (49024).
Seeing this lithograph, Old Battersea Bridge c018, exhibited in 1895, F.G. Stephens remarked that it 'reminds one of the sketcher's admirable etching of the subject.' 11

11: The Athenaeum, 21 December 1895, p. 878.

The earliest oil painting by Whistler depicting the whole bridge is Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge y033. The later studies were drawn either from a boat or the shore near Whistler's house on Lindsey Row in Chelsea.
Single piles supporting a section of bridge (making a T-shaped composition) appear in several drawings, The new Albert Bridge, seen through old Battersea Bridge m0480, A span of old Battersea Bridge m0481, Old Battersea Bridge m0482 and Nocturne: Battersea Bridge m0485, and relate to Blue and Silver: Screen, with Old Battersea Bridge y139. The most famous of the T-shaped compositions is the oil painting, Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge y140, which dates from the early 1870s, and reflects the strong influence of oriental prints.
Etching: c_K176_03
The Tall Bridge c012, lithograph, 1878,
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow (49019).

Old Battersea Bridge m0700 and The Tall Bridge m0701, dating from 1878, are closer in scale and detail to the etching, but are in fact chalk studies for two lithographs, The Broad Bridge c011 and The Tall Bridge c012 (reproduced above). The pier that appears on the right of The Tall Bridge may be the same one that is seen second from left in the etching Old Battersea Bridge. The whole bridge is seen again, rather fuzzily, in the lithograph Old Battersea Bridge, No. 2 c013, and finally in Old Battersea Bridge c018, which was drawn from a boat at high tide, when the water conceals much of the piers.
In the composition of this etching, Old Battersea Bridge, Whistler synthesized the on-site realism of his earlier work with ideas of composition acquired from the woodcuts of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858). He used a low vantage point and high horizon, focussed on the central piers rather than the whole bridge, and framed the view between piers.
Lochnan cites Hokusai's Mannenbashi Bridge at Fukagawa from the series of Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji (1830s) as one of many such influences. Hiroshige's Bridge in the Rain and his Okazaki. Tenshin-no Hashi from the Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi-no Uchi (53 Stations of the Tokaido) of 1834 show striking compositional structures, and were prints that Whistler almost certainly knew. 12

12: Lochnan 1984[more], pp. 179-180.

Etching: c_K072_01

Okada Shuntosai, Cinsen (Doban Hosoye Shu), woodcut.
Whistler Collection, The Hunterian, GLAHA 18792.

Cinsen (Doban Hosoye Shu) a series of views of famous sites of Edo by , in a small book that was in Whistler's collection, includes two views of a bridge. One scene, an aerial view of a bridge, reproduced above, shows passers-by and carts on the bridge, ships below, and Mount Fuji in the distance. 13 14

Etching: c_K072_02

Another woodcut from the same volume (reproduced above), shows the curve of the bridge across the centre of the plate, the roadway crowded with pedestrian traffic, fireworks above and boats in the river below, flanked by stylised landscape features, including roofs across the foreground. 15

13: Book, 31 sheets, 130 x 258 mm, prints 68 x 121 mm, The Hunterian, GLAHA 18792.

14: See Westminster Bridge in Progress 077 for a further discussion of Asian influences on Whistler's bridge compositions.

15: See Westminster Bridge in Progress 077 for a further discussion of Asian influences on Whistler's bridge compositions.