The wharves, warehouses, alehouses, fishermen, and dockworkers of the Thames, along with the river and its many bridges, were important subjects for Whistler. The Old Battersea Bridge was a favorite, and Whistler depicted it frequently in drawings, etchings, lithographs, lithotints, paintings, and even on a wall of his house near the river. The eighteenth-century wood bridge was slated to be replaced with a new stone bridge in the early 1880s, so this print is a kind of memorial. Though the view was taken from life, the composition incorporates features of Japanese woodcuts, including a low vantage point, a high horizon, a framed view, and large empty areas. Whistler was a master printer who constantly experimented with paper, ink, and printing pressure to achieve different effects. Here he left a thin film of ink on the plate to create a sense of the flowing river surface.
From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American, 1834 - 1903
Title
  • Old Battersea Bridge
Date 1879
Medium etching and drypoint printed in brown-black ink on antique laid paper
Dimensions Sheet (slightly irreg): 12 1/8 × 15 1/8 inches (30.8 × 38.4 cm)
Plate: 8 × 11 9/16 inches (20.3 × 29.4 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, with funds from Sidney and Robert Katzman Foundation in honor of Dr. Irving Burton's 90th Birthday
Accession Number 2008.4
Department Prints, Drawings & Photographs
Not On View
Signed Signed in plate, lower right of image: [Whistler's butterfly monogram; butterfly monogram repeated in pencil, followed by "imp", lower right]
Marks Watermark: [coat of arms of Amsterdam with pendant initials RK]
2008-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)