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Little Smithfield

Impression: Colby College Museum of Art, Maine
Colby College Museum of Art, Maine
Number: 154
Date: 1875
Medium: etching
Size: 136 x 99 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 7
Catalogues: K.160; M.157; W.78
Impressions taken from this plate  (7)


boy, building, half-timbered, street, city.


There are minor variations in the title, as follows:

'Little Smithfield' (1870s, Whistler). 1
'Smithfield No. 1' (1877, Whistler). 2
'Little Smithfield' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 3
'Smithfield' (1887/1888, Whistler). 4

However, the original title, 'Little Smithfield' has been generally accepted by later cataloguers.

1: Written on .

2: Whistler to C. A. Howell, 14-16 November [1877], GUW #13668.

3: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 78).

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


On either side of a narrow backyard are three- and four-storey irregular half-timbered buildings with small-paned or leaded windows. In front, at the right, there are two boys, the left one wearing a cap, facing each other.


Etching: c_K160_01
Cloth Fair, 1870s, photograph.
Society for Photographing Relics of Old London.
The 'Society for Photographing Relics of Old London' was established to record threatened buildings and sites. On 6 July 1877 the Times reported the Society's publication of Old London, the first of a series of albums of photographs, and asked the public to 'give intimation ... of the intended demolition of interesting buildings ... in good time.' 5 The first set of twelve photographs included two views of Wych Street and Drury Lane and the second, Temple Bar, all of which were etched by Whistler, who apparently shared an interest in recording the threatened buildings, including these buildings in Smithfield, London.

5: 'Archaeology and photography', The Times, London, 6 July 1877, p. 4.

Smithfield (also known as West Smithfield) is an area in the north-west area of the City of London. It includes the large Smithfield meat market on Charterhouse Street. The Central Market, designed by Sir Horace Jones, was began in 1866 and completed in 1868. It was extended to the west between 1873 and 1876 by the construction of a Poultry Market.
The Cloth Fair was also held in the Smithfield area. This was described as late as 1908 by George Clinch:
'A remarkable group of timber houses ... exists in and immediately adjacent to the narrow street at Smithfield known as the Cloth Fair. Although they present no particular feature of architectural merit, they remain as an extremely interesting group of old wooden houses with over-sailing storeys and picturesque gables. ... the Cloth Fair remains to-day a veritable "bit" of old London as it was pretty generally in the seventeenth century.' 6


Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) described Whistler's etching as 'a narrow London lane' 7 but the lean-to shed at the back of the area and irregular walls at right suggest a back-yard. Wedmore admired it: 'On either side there recede into the distance the quaint timber houses of a narrow London lane, the woodwork wonderfully indicated.' 8

7: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 78).

As a record of old houses in an area that was largely being altered and rebuilt, this may reflect Whistler's awareness of the photographic records of historical sites. It is not known if he had any interest in preserving such sites or saw them as a marketable subject.