Old Putney Bridge
James Whistler (1834-1903), Old Putney Bridge, 1879 Etching and drypoint, signed in pencil with a large, elaborate shaded butterfly, lower right, printed in dark-brown ink on laid paper, watermark 1814, an impression in the seventh (final) state, published by The Fine Art Society, probably printed in 1881 77/8 x 115/8 inches (20 x 29.6 cm) sheet 121/4 x 177/8 inches (31.3 x 45.5 cm) Reference: Kennedy 178; Glasgow 185.
The Fine Art Society’s relationship with Whistler began with the new etchings of the Thames he made in 1879, following a visit from Ernest Brown who had joined the staff of the gallery. The plate is on a large scale and shows the change in the artist’s approach to the Thames since the etchings he had made in Wapping and the docks in the summer of 1859. The central motif is the old bridge, by this stage somewhat dilapidated. It was shortly to be demolished and replaced by the new bridge of Cornish granite which was opened in 1886. Whistler’s instinct for preservation and his interest in Japanese art combine in this work, which successfully incorporates both the Western tradition and the influence of Japan. This impression was probably printed in 1881 or earlier and is printed on a full sheet signed with a large butterfly with veined wings. The printing of the edition was not completed until 1889. The Fine Art Society received 21 impressions in 1885, twelve in 1887 and a further six in 1887. The cancelled plate was delivered to The Fine Art Society in 1889, after Whistler had taken a print showing the cancellation, but the plates current whereabouts are unknown. The work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1879.