The Thames is an iconic part of London yet its role a century ago was even more prominent. London was heavily reliant on its port, the Thames was filled with ships and lined with industrial warehouses.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American artist who spent much of his life in London, so it’s no surprise he was drawn to create sketches and paintings of the Thames and its snaking course through the heart of London.
The exhibition is full of sketches of the Thames by Whistler, accompanied by photographs of the time to demonstrate how he picked out the subtle details and the boats and people on the river travelling back and forth. These impressive works also serve as an historical record, and Londoners will enjoy seeing their city from over 100 years ago.
The House of Parliament and St Paul’s still stand, but the old wooden bridges no longer grace the Thames. In one painting, the great exhibition hall in Crystal Palace can be seen in the far distance. Horse-drawn carts travel along Embankment and the river banks are heavily industrialised — a far cry from today’s riverside.
Whistler’s paintings include brilliant nocturnes of dim lights across the river fighting the darkness, and Battersea Bridge just about visible through the gloom. But as Whistler only created a handful of Thames paintings, this exhibition feels like a long build up of sketches with only a few painted rewards at the end.
An American in London: Whistler and the Thames is on at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, SE21 7AD until 12 January. Tickets are £11 for adults, concessions available.