• London Bridge
  • London Bridge

London Bridge

A view of the bridge, with river craft near it; masts beyond and to the left; unsigned.
Maker nationality and date
Watercolor over graphite on paper
H x W: 17.5 x 27.8 cm (6 7/8 x 10 15/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Object Number
Production location
England, London
Exhibition History
Freer Gallery of Art, American Paintings, Pastels, and Water Colors, and Drawings. J.A.McN. Whistler, May 2, 1923 to January 7, 1924
Selected Curatorial Remarks

1. Glazer, Jacobson, McCarthy, Roeder, wall label, 2019:
"Mr. Whistler is about to surprise both his friends and his detractors by appearing in the new character of the watercolour artist," a reporter wrote in 1881. London Bridge was not Whistler's first watercolor, but he wanted it understood as his origin story. He sought to position himself as the heir to Britain's watercolor tradition and the preeminent artist of its future.

In technique, London Bridge was among the last watercolors in which Whistler employed underdrawing. It was also one of the last he created with cobalt blue paint. Shortly before traveling to the Channel Islands in 1881, Whistler purchased new watercolor materials and switched to cerulean blue paint, which was less expensive. He used cerulean blue in his seascapes, including Note in Blue and Opal–Jersey.

2. Lee Glazer, 2018:
Changed date from "early 1880s" to 1881. This painting was described in a newspaper article from 1881. According to MacDonald, on 23 September 1881 a newspaper reported, "His first water-colour drawing is Swan Pier and London Bridge from a low point."

Selected Published References

1. Curry: James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art, Pg. 179
Whistler's decision to paint London Bridge in a glowing gray and gold palette recalls the expressive images of bridges on the Thames by J.M.W. Turner [The Thames above Waterloo Bridge, by J.M.W. Turner, Tate Gallery]. Turner's impact upon Whistler remains an issue still ripe for exploration. Whistler had copied Turner's work by 1855, and he probably viewed the exhibition of Turner's paintings at the National Gallery in London in 1857. However, standard biographies tell us that Whistler "reviled" Turner. Whistler complained that "neither Turner nor Ruskin had the brains to carry on tradition." Turner's art was championed by the art critic John Ruskin, who later became Whistler's adversary in the famous libel suit. This connection may well have something to do with the negative verbiage on Turner that Whistler left behind. However, some of Turner's titles, like Shade and Darkness or Light and Color seem to presage Whistler's aesthetic concerns, and watercolors like London Bridge offer visual evidence that Whistler did not revile Turner completely. 

2. Untitled newspaper clipping, September 23, 1881
"His first water-colour drawing is Swan Pier and London Bridge from a low point of view, just above the pier–dull sky, Thames reflecting in it, dark smoke from boat beside the pier, mist through the arches, and vapour of multitudinous chimneys."

Catalogue Raisonne number
MacDonald Catalogue number
Previous owner(s)
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919)
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)
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