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James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903)
Black Lion Wharf, c. 1859
Etching on paper, 5-7/8 x 8-3/4 in.
Bequest of Mrs. John H. Livingston.  2001.24.7




About This Work

Black Lion Wharf is one of the etchings from James McNeill Whistler's acclaimed Thames Set, which focus on the dockworkers along the river. The wharf is named for the warehouse seen in the upper right, located at Cherry Gardens in Wapping, where ships were docked and unloaded. Here Whistler employs a characteristic compositional format that may be related to developments in the science of optics and an understanding of how the eye functions. The image is divided into three horizontal zones. In the foreground a figure in a cut-off rowboat engages the viewer's eye, while the warehouses surrounding the harbor are seen in the distance. Between them is empty space, mimicking the eye's tendency to see objects in the foreground and background more clearly than in the middle distance or periphery. Whistler told the etcher Joseph Pennell that he spent three weeks creating this etching. No doubt proud of his efforts, Whistler placed it on the wall behind his mother in his famous portrait of her.


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