Old Battersea Bridge

Accession Number

Old Battersea Bridge

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
etching and drypoint, printed in dark brown ink on laid paper, trimmed to platemark

7 15/16 in. x 11 9/16 in. ( 20.2 cm x 29.4 cm )

Credit Line
Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker

Label copy
Old Battersea Bridge
Etching and drypoint
Fourth state of five (Kennedy 177)
Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker, 1954/1.371
The lithographs Whistler made in 1878 did not generate the interest he had wished—the buying public seemed to prefer his earlier realist etchings of the Thames Set, which was reissued in 1879, to his new lithographic work—and he returned to etching in the hope that there would be a better response. This etching and drypoint of the old Battersea Bridge is a more conventional depiction than either of the lithographs Whistler executed the previous year, its scale and more finished style harking back to the Thames etchings of 1859. Nevertheless, the low vantage point and the way the bridge frames the view of the distant shore shows how Whistler was incorporating new ideas from Japanese prints, even while returning to his earlier medium and subject matters.
It is likely this was etched before Whistler’s bankruptcy and departure for Venice, but the retention of ink along the bottom edge as a way to indicate shadow on the surface of the water—a printing technique he began to use in Venice in order to create tone in his etchings—indicates that it may have been printed after his return. The rest of the plate was cleanly wiped, lending the image a flatter, floating quality reminiscent of Japanese prints.

Subject matter
The Old Battersea Bridge was slated for demolition to begin in 1883 and Whistler returned to the portrayal of the picturesque old timber structure in nearly all media--painting, pastel, lithography, and etching. The low vantage point looking between the piers shows Whistler's affinity for Japanese woodblock prints of similar subjects.

Physical Description
Seen from the surface of a river, a segment of a wooden bridge carries both carriages and pedestrians across the span. The piers of the bridge are reinforced with horizontal boards to protect against collision. Between the piers the distant shore shows numerous buildings and dry-dock cranes. In the center span, a low boat with a sail is about to pass under the bridge, moving towards the viewer.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

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bridges (built works)
carriages (vehicles)

2 Related Resources

(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
(Part of 5 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted