Billingsgate – Fishing Boats

Whistler, James Abbott McNeill

An American-born artist who came to Europe and was one of the most cosmopolitan artist of the nineteenth century. Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. His father, Major George Washington Whistler, had studied civil engineering at the US Military Academy at West Point.   Since America was at peace during Whistler’s early childhood, Major Whistler became a successful railway engineer. In 1842 Czar Nicholas I invited him to design the first railway in Russia and the family moved to St. Petersburg. James was educated at the czar’s court, where he learned to speak French and took drawing at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. His father died in 1849 and his mother moved back to America with her two sons. Because of her late husband’s connections, Mrs. Whistler gained a place for her son James at West Point in 1851. Whistler achieved only low grades at West Point and was discharged, after which he joined the U.S. Coast and Geodesic Survey in Washington D.C. but resigned after three months. In 1855, Whistler left America for Paris, where he lived and worked with other painters, including Fantin-Latour, until he settled London in 1859, although still he made regular visits to Paris. It was in that year that Whistler began a series of sixteen etchings known as the ‘Thames Set’, of which ‘Billingsgate – Fishing Boats’ is one. In the mid nineteenth-century, Billingsgate was the main covered fish market in Britain and fishing boats would enter this small inlet on the Thames to deliver their catch. This etching was bought by the LACF in 1917.  Another work by Whistler, Old Battersea Bridge, dated 1879, is also illustrated  here.



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