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Old Westminster Bridge

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 47
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 76 x 204 mm
Signed: 'Whistler' at lower left
Inscribed: '1859' at lower left
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 75
Catalogues: K.39; M.38; T.36; W.36
Impressions taken from this plate  (75)


barge, bridge, building, horse, paddle-steamer, river, riverscape, wharves, worker.


The two main features in the view, Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, feature at different times in various forms in the titles used by Whistler and other cataloguers:

'Old Westminster Bridge' (1863, R.A.). 1
'Old Westminster Bridge' (1863, Whistler). 2
'Old Westminster Bridge' (1871, Ellis & Green). 3
'Old Westminster Bridge' (1874, Whistler). 4
'The Houses of Parliament' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 5
'The Houses of Parliament, with a View of Old Westminster Bridge' (1874, James Anderson Rose (1819-1890)). 6
'The Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Bridge' (1881, Union League Club). 7
'Houses of Parliament' (1887, Whistler). 8
'Westminster Bridge' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 9
'Old Westminster Bridge' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 10

It is also worth noting that the title 'Old Westminster Bridge' is incised on the verso of the copper plate, but not necessarily by Whistler - this may have been a much later record, possibly done when the plate was given by Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) to the University of Glasgow in 1935.

'Old Westminster Bridge' is, however, Whistler's preferred title, as published in the 'Thames Set' in 1871.

1: London RA 1863 (cat. no. 952).

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

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

4: London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 11).

5: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 36).

6: Liverpool 1874 (cat. no. 489).

7: New York 1881 (cat. no. 54).

8: Whistler to Craibe Angus, 9 May and 8 August 1887, GUW #13098, #13045.

9: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 36).

10: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 38).


In the distance, at far left, are buildings partly concealed by trees, leading up to the silhouette of the Houses of Parliament. Just beyond these, nine arches of Westminster Bridge are seen, crossing the river Thames. On the river bank at the left are stranded barges, and in the foreground are two men on horses in the water. In mid-stream are two small side-wheel steamboats and several barges under sail. On the Lambeth side, to right, there are are buildings and barges. There are sketchy clouds in the sky, suggesting a breezy day.


A view of old Westminster Bridge on the River Thames in London, with, at left, the Houses of Parliament and the tower of Big Ben. The stone arches of the bridge are surrounded with a network of wooden piles and struts to reinforce the structure. The view was drawn on the copper plate on site and is as usual reversed in the print.


The horses could have been cart horses, but equally, could have been used to pull barges along the canals and river-side. They were becoming a less familiar sight within the city limits but were in common use in the country.
The panoramic composition is more conventional than some of the other Thames etchings, having 'repoussoir' figures in the lower left foreground, and buildings and trees framing the central blank area of the river. It is to some extent vignetted, with detail concentrated across the centre.
Whistler would have known and could well have been influenced by the panoramic views of the Thames by WenceslausHollar (1607-1677), with their extremely narrow horizontal format. Examples include Hollar's A True and Exact Prospect of the Famous Citty of London from S. Marie Overs Steeple in Southwarke in its flourishing condition before the fire and London from ye top of Arundell House. 11

Lochnan commented : 'two small plates, Thames Warehouses ... and Old Westminster Bridge, ... which recall both in subject and style Hollar's views of London along the Thames, ... were well represented in the Haden collection.' 12

11: M.DC.LXVI, Museum of London, acc. no. A24656; copy after Hollar, ca 1646, British Museum 1868,0822.337; see Thames Warehouses 046.

12: Lochnan 1984[more], p. 76.