people sitting on porch, boats/masts in background
Inspired by the French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire, who argued that artists should direct their attention to the representation of modern city life, Whistler conceived a series of etchings of London. Focusing on the lower reaches of the Thames, at once a major economic junction and an area of rampant poverty, Whistler engaged his fascination with urban scenes and perspectives that escape most people’s view. In the ‘Thames Set,’ as it is known, Whistler not only explored uncommon sights but introduced new ways of seeing into his work, emulating the spatial effects of photographs and Japanese prints. The Thames Set also bears the influence of optical science, namely the theory that the eye cannot focus on near and distant objects simultaneously.
Rotherhithe is a wharf-side view of the Thames as seen from the balcony of The Angel, an inn on the south side of the river, where Whistler lived for two months while producing the etchings for the Thames Set. Because it is a print, not a drawing, the image is a reversal of the scene Whistler would have looked out on. The heavy textures and realist precision of details create a rich contrast with the calm water and sky conveyed by the empty page and lightly bitten lines. Whistler clearly relishes the features of everyday life at the wharf—the dynamic angles of the pulleys and levers, the wires and masts of the tipping boats—but the print also shows his subtle handling of atmosphere and weather.
water; boats; urban; figures
Link to share this object record: