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James Abbott McNeill Whistler

1834 - 1903

Rotherhithe by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Rotherhithe   1859

  Original etching.
Signed and dated in the plate.
Ref: Kennedy 66 iii/iii
S 347 x 252 mm; P & I 275 x 201 mm
Superb early impression of this famous etching, as published in Whistler’s Sixteen Etchings, widely known as the Thames Set. A particularly striking example with rich black inking and fine clear detail.

The River Thames and its surrounding scenery, together with the wharves and warehouses along its banks, were a prime source of inspiration for Whistler throughout his life. His first Thames etchings date from 1858/9 and in 1871 his sixteen finest Thames etchings were published with great financial success. After Whistler was declared bankrupt as a result of his famous libel action against Ruskin, it was through his etchings of the Thames, and later of Venice, that he re-established both his name and his financial stability. The exceptional quality of this especially fine impression places it amongst the very finest examples of all of J.A.McN.Whistler’s Thames etchings.

It is now known that in 1863 Whistler and his brother-in-law, Francis Seymour Haden, were planning to publish a comprehensive series of etched views depicting the Thames from its source to the sea. They projected a total of 48 plates issued in four separate instalments, each containing twelve etchings. However, it is clear that Haden had abandoned the project by 1865 and their working relationship came to an abrupt end in 1867. It is clear that this etching must have been considered for inclusion in this project and it is likely that the collapse of this joint venture was one of the factors which led Whistler to issue his own Thames Set.

Included in the published Thames Set as Wapping, this plate is usually known by its earlier title, Rotherhithe, under which it was exhibited by Whistler at the Royal Academy in 1862. The figures in the foreground are seated on the balcony of the Angel Inn at Cherry Gardens, Rotherhithe, from which Whistler painted his oils Wapping and The Thames in Ice. At the left of the image the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen through the rigging. One of Whistler’s finest etchings of any period, Rotherhithe shows his use of meticulous detail, not for its own sake, but to achieve an overall effect. He drew in every brick in the wall at the right of the plate, because only in this way could he achieve the exact ‘colour’ he desired.

Rotherhithe has always been the most sought-after of Whistler’s Thames Set works and is widely regarded as one of his greatest etchings. The largest plate in the set, it demonstrates to the full the extraordinary abilities of this great master as an original etcher.

On fine simile Japan paper, with full margins, as issued. Very fine condition. Image surface excellent.