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Eagle Wharf

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
(1898.270)
Number: 50
Date: 1859
Medium: etching
Size: 140 x 217 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' below centre
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower centre
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 1
Known impressions: 73
Catalogues: K.41; M.40; T.40; W.39
Impressions taken from this plate  (73)

KEYWORD

barge, boy, river, rowing boat, sailing ship, steamer, warehouse, weather-boarding, wharves.

TITLE

Among the prominent signs on the warehouses are both 'EAGLE WHARF' and 'TYZAC, WHITELEY & Co.' As a result both titles figure in documents, publications and exhibitions over the years. Examples are as follows:


'EAGLE WHARF', 'TYZAC, WHITELEY & Co.' and 'W. BROWN, SAIL MAKER, SHIP OWNER' (1859, Whistler). 2
'Tyzack Whiteley' (1861, V&A). 3
'Tyzack' (1862, Whistler). 4
'Eagle Wharf' (1871, Ellis & Green). 5
'Tyzack, Whitely, & Co.' (1874, Flemish Gallery). 6
'Tyzack Whiteley and Co.' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 7
'Tyzack, Whiteley, & Co. (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 8
'Tyzac Whiteley' (1889, Whistler). 9
'Tyzac Whiteley & Co.' (1890/1891, Whistler). 10
'Eagle Wharf' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)).. 11


Variations on the sign 'TYZAC, WHITELEY & Co.', at upper left on the plate, alternate with the other title, also based on a sign board, 'EAGLE WHARF'.

'Eagle Wharf', as published in the 'Thames Set' in 1871, is the definitive title accepted by the majority of later cataloguers, from Mansfield on. It has the advantage of covering the wharf itself, which is central to the view, rather than a specific building.

2: Etched on the copper plate.

3: 1 January 1861, V&A Register of Prints, p. 32.

4: [May 1862/1864?], GUW #12745, p. 38.

5: A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames.

6: London Pall Mall 1874 (cat. no. 13).

7: Thomas 1874 [more] (cat. no. 40).

8: Wedmore 1886 A [more] (cat. no. 39).

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

10: List, [1890/1891], GUW #13236.

11: Mansfield 1909 [more] (cat. no. 40).

DESCRIPTION

The deck of a barge with a battened-down hatch stretches across the foreground. A boy sits on the hatch, facing front, hands on knees, his feet resting against one of the battens. He wears a buttoned jacket with broad lapels and a peaked cap.
Behind and to left of the barge is a stretch of foreshore with planks, duckboards, and a boat (with a small hut on top of it) on rollers. On the wharves to left are derricks, with men loading and unloading barges. A four-storey warehouse at far left bears the sign of 'TYZAC, WHITELEY & Co.' Next, a narrow three-storey building with two bow-windows, and figures on a balcony, belongs to 'W. BROWN, SAIL MAKER, SHIP OWNER'. Then, a warehouse of some six storeys is labelled 'EAGLE WHARF'. At this point a narrow jetty juts into the river, with sailing ships and barges moored alongside. Beyond it, on the left there are steep-roofed buildings and some building construction. In the distance to right there are sailing and steam-ships on the river, with more warehouses and docks in the distance.
The lighting is inconsistent. The shadows on the buildings suggest the sun is high in the sky, to the right, casting shadows forward and to left, but the boy's legs appear to be casting shadows back and to left.

SITTER

The boy in the foreground has not been identified. His face is dark, and so is one hand, but it is unclear whether he is dark-skinned, in shadow, or dirty, as a bargee might well be.
In 1872 the Pall Mall Gazette commented :
'[Whistler] in his river-side studies, almost always works up his middle-distances of warehouses, wharf-lumber, huddled walls and roofs and advertisement-bearing gables of brick, tile, and timber, with a brilliant care and power, realizing their differences of surface, material, colour almost, with a subtlety of picturesque instinct and a direct strength of hand which no etcher, unless the hapless Méryon, has ever surpassed. And in the same piece he will indicate his foreground subjects with the slightest and most careless touch, dashing in the mere outlines of a lighter or barge, of which the place is under his very nose, or still rougher outlines of sailor or bargee figures equally contiguous, or sometimes one half of such a figure in complete workmanship and the other half negligently (e.g. No. 11, "Eagle Wharf").' 12
Lochnan comments that such figures 'stare out at the viewer, making no apologies for their low social status or unkempt condition.' 13

13: Lochnan, op. cit., p. 82.

SITE

Eagle Wharf was in Wapping on the River Thames in London. It was located at 269 Wapping High Street, the opposite side from Rotherhithe. It was also known as Black Eagle Wharf. 14

Tyzac, Whiteley & Co. (who owned the building at left) were at 266-267 Wapping High Street, backing on to Baltic Wharf, and William Brown was a ship's chandler next door at No. 268. Tyzack, Whiteley & Co. were chain manufacturers based at the Anchor Works in North Shields; their partnership was dissolved, and the contents of the foundry auctioned, in 1868. 15

In his Thames etchings Whistler focussed on the area of Wapping from East London Lime Wharf, past the entrance to the Thames Tunnel, Tunnel Steam Packet Pier, Wapping Dock Stairs, Wheatsheaf Wharf (at No. 233 Wapping High Street), Shap's wharf, Execution Dock Stairs, Phoenix Wharf, the Thames Police Station (at No. 255), Aberdeen Steam Wharf (at No. 257), Baltic Wharf, Eagle Wharf (at No. 269), Hermitage Wharf (at No. 343), Watson's Wharf, and finally Hore's Wharf. 16

14: Another view, that looks nothing like Whistler's view, is seen in the photograph Black Eagle Wharf with the schooner Express of Alnmouth, , National Maritime Museum, repro ID H0042 in Portcities London at http://www.portcities.org.uk (accessed 2012).

15: Liverpool Mercury, 9 July 1868; Newcastle Courant, 10 July 1868. Thanks to Martin Hopkinson for this reference.

16: London Postal Directory, 1859.

DISCUSSION.

Campbell Dodgson wrote in 1922:
'The Thames etchings have been praised so often and so well that it is difficult to find anything new to say about them. One can but endorse and reaffirm what others have said about the keen eye for the picturesque, the masterly and careful drawing, the nice adjustment of the line to every variety of building material in the ramshackle old riverside houses, which made such plates as Thames Police, Black Lion Wharf, or Eagle Wharf ... unsurpassed and unapproachable in their particular genre.' 17