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American-born artist James McNeill Whistler (pictured above in his circa-1872 self-portrait) is remembered by many for his iconic ‘Portrait of the Artist’s Mother’ and his dream-like paintings such as ‘Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville’. His etchings, however, are not less deserving of admiration. He created many such works, the most interesting being his etchings of waterfront scenes.

Below are 12 port and harbour etchings by Whistler, together with excerpts from my earlier articles. Some look like hurried sketches. Others are carefully composed and richly detailed — which is a testimony to Whistler’s draughtsmanship¹ and eye for detail. In all of them, the waterfront comes alive with a certain sort of freshness and raw energy.

¹ Whistler studied drawing in St. Petersburg, Russia (the Imperial Academy of Science). He excelled in Robert W. Weir‘s drawing class at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Read more about his life and art here.

”There is hardly any place in a town or city more interesting than the waterfront. It is here where one encounters life in the raw with all its piquant energy.”

— BU, Serdar Bayram: Waterfront photography as metaphor

Billingsgate, 1850
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thames Warehouses, 1859
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Longshore Men, 1859
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“I remember watching from the upper deck tiny fishes swim alongside the ship whilst it was moored. The riot of smells from ripe pineapples, jute sacks and salt water was an experience I shan’t forget.”

— BU, 10 wondrous paintings of the waterfront

Little Wapping, 1861
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

Two Ships, 1875
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Pool, 1859
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

Limehouse, 1859
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

“The waterfront is larger than life. It is not only the huge ships and the huge machines that make it so. It is the vibrancy of commerce under a bright sun with the smell of salt water filling the air”.

— BU, The perpetual lure of the waterfront

Old Hungerford Bridge, 1861
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

From Pickle Herring Stairs, 1876-77
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

Eagle Wharf, 1859
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rotherhithe (Wapping), 1860
James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

~ Barista Uno

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