The etching and drypoint is signed ‘Whistler 1859’ in plate to lower right margin. It is the second state of 4, before all of the foul biting was removed, see photo. It is framed and has not been examined out of the frame. Label states that the etching is printed on ‘thick japon with wire lines’. Appears to be in good condition.
Plate size 153 x 225mm (6 x 10 inches)
Sheet size: Good margins
The information below is from University of Glasgow. This web site is very informative in regards to prints made by Whistler. They state that although this etching was not published, the plate consists of four states and there are 40 known impressions in collection around the world.
First state: Signed ‘Whistler -‘ and inscribed ‘1859 -‘ at lower right.
2nd state: Corrosion is removed; an acid spot to right of centre, in the foreground, is removed.
3rd State: All acid drops, including the conspicuous spots at lower left, are removed.Fine drypoint shading on and around the central man’s right eye and on the cheek below it, and curved drypoint lines on the left sleeve of the man at left, fade a little in later impressions.
4th. State: Vertical scratches are removed from the hat and face of the pipe smoker at the back.
Longshore men were casual labourers, working along the Thames riverside and wharves in London. They ranged from scavengers along the ‘long shore’ of the river banks, to dockers, unloading goods from ships and barges.
Henry Mayhew described visiting Bermondsey in 1849:
‘The houses were mostly inhabited by “corn-runners,” coal-porters, and “longshore-men,” getting a precarious living – earning some times as much as 12s. a day, and then for weeks doing nothing.’
In September 1859 The Times wrote that ‘Long-shore men’ were considered or considered themselves to some extent ‘above the law’, and defined them as:
‘a number of very dilapidated citizens who may be seen wandering along the banks of the river at low water, and pursuing their researches among the débris of dead dogs, bottles, bones, oystershells, and bits of coal which form the margin of our Father Thames.’
It is most likely that it was drawn in an inn or public house, or in a local ‘ordinary’ (a cheap restaurant) in the Rotherhithe or Wapping area, where Whistler was working on the ‘Thames set’ etchings. Rotherhithe shows such a pub, the ‘Angel’ in Cherry Gardens, Rotherhithe. According to the Pennells. (This pub is still there.)
[Whistler] stayed for months at Wapping, to be near his subjects, … Mr Ionides recalls long drives, down by the Tower and the London Docks to get to the place, as out of the way now as then. He says Whistler lived in a little inn, rather rough, frequented by skippers and bargees, close to Wapping steamboat pier. … “When his friends came,” Mr Armstrong writes us, “they dined at an ordinary there used to be. People who had business at the wharves in the neighbourhood dined there, and Jimmie’s descriptions of the company were always humorous.” Mr Ionides drove down once for a dinner-party Whistler gave at his inn: “The landlord and several bargee guests were invited. Du Maurier was there also, and after dinner we had songs and sentiments. Jimmie proposed the landlord’s health – he felt flattered, but we were in fits of laughter.”