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The Rag Shop, Milman's Row

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 290
Date: 1887
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 96 x 164 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper centre
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 3
Known impressions: 9
Catalogues: K.258; M.254
Impressions taken from this plate  (9)


child, clothing, paintings, people, shop, shop-front, steps, street, streetscape.


The titles used for this etching are not entirely clear, because it can be confused with similar subjects, but possible variations are as follows:

'The Rag Shop' or 'Shop Millmans Row' (1887/1888, Whistler). 2
Possibly 'The Rag shop / Chelsea' (1887, Whistler). 3
'Rag Shop Chelsea' (1889, Whistler). 4
'Old-Clothes Shop, No. 2' (1902, ). 5

'The Rag Shop, Milman's Row' has been chosen as accurate and to distinguish it from other 'rag' or 'old clothes' shops.

It was numbered by Kennedy 'No. 2', following the original 'No. 1', which was The Little Rag Shop, Milman's Row 265. It is very difficult to disentangle the history and titles of these two etchings. To add to the problem, there are other similar Milman's Row subjects including Rag Shop, Milman's Row, Chelsea 329.

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

3: Whistler to T. McLean, GUW #13014.

4: List, 18 July 1889, GUW #13235.

5: Kennedy 1902[more] (cat. no. 302).


At the left is a short flight of steps with a central hand-rail leading to two adjoining doorways. A woman is seen in the dark interior of the doorway at left, and a man is sitting on the top step, talking with a woman standing in front of the other doorway. A pair of crutches is propped against the wall at left, on the steps. Several small children are standing or sitting by the pavement, at the extreme left, and above them, old clothes hang in front of the shop window. To the right of the doors is a window with a small window-box above a long shelf. Under the window is the dark entrance to a sub-basement. A pot of flowers stands on the shelf, at the left, and underneath the shelf hang pictures (including an oval portrait of a woman) and various garments. On the pavement below are a chair and other articles.


Milman's Row in Chelsea, London. The same shop is seen in The Little Rag Shop, Milman's Row 265 and Rag Shop, Milman's Row, Chelsea 329.
This was an area with a poor and lower working class population; old clothes- and junk-shops epitomised the poverty of the population: 'Clothes were worn to destruction and, when they were no longer fit to wear, were sold for rags and recycled.' 6 Whistler's etchings record the whole cycle of clothing from the dress-maker and seamstress to the lady of fashion and then to the the local rag-shops and second-hand clothes markets.

6: MacDonald 2003[more], p. 219.

Robins points out that Rag Shop, Milman's Row, Chelsea 329 'included the paned window of the original Georgian building above part of the junk shop on the right but focuses on the rag shop, the moulded architrave above the doorways, its bow-fronted window and ... the first of the adjacent seventeenth-century row of cottages at Nos. 55-9 Milman Street.' 7

7: Robins 2007[more], pp. 131-136.

In The Little Rag Shop, Milman's Row 265 Whistler moved closer to depict part of the same shops, but omitted some of the architectural framework, and in this etching, The Rag Shop, Milman's Row, he drew the same rag shop and included more of the junk shop, on a narrower plate.
The shop, including the lean-to awning over the junk-shop, is seen more clearly in W.W. Burgess's etching Rag Shop, Milman's Row, and the whole row of buildings appears in Burgess's etching Milman's Row, both published in Lionel Johnson & Richard le Gallienne's Bits of Old Chelsea, London, 1894. 8

8: Ibid., repr. p. 134, fig. 144.


Old clothes and rag shops were frequently etched, drawn and painted by Whistler. Examples are the etchings Little Greengrocer's Shop, Chelsea 264, Rag Shop, Milman's Row, Chelsea 329, Rag Shop, St Martin's Lane 328, Clothes-Exchange, Houndsditch. No. 1 358 and Clothes-Exchange, Houndsditch. No. 2 359; lithographs, Drury Lane Rags c025 and Chelsea Rags c026; drawing, Chelsea Rags m1586; and the oil painting, Old Clothes Shop, Houndsditch y371.