Nocturne (Nocturne: The Thames at Battersea)

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)

Date: 1878

Medium: Lithotint with scraping, on a prepared half-tint ground, second state of two (Chicago), printed in soft gray-black ink on pale blue laid chine mounted on ivory wove plate paper

Dimensions: Image: 6 3/4 × 10 3/16 in. (17.1 × 25.9 cm)
Sheet: 13 1/2 × 19 5/16 in. (34.3 × 49 cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1917

Accession Number: 17.3.159


Born in New England, Whistler studied painting in Paris and then based himself in London. There he demonstrated that making prints could be as serious an artistic pursuit as painting. Representing the river Thames, then the lagoons of Venice, Whistler developed subtle tonal variations that alluded dreamily to a triumph of water and air over substance.
In this early lithograph, Whistler worked directly on the stone (rather than using transfer paper), applying washes of ink to achieve striking atmospheric effects. The artist printed this river subject in 1878, the year in which his libel case against the art critic John Ruskin—involving Ruskin's attack on one of Whistler's painted "Nocturnes"—was heard. Though Whistler won the case, the court costs forced him to declare bankruptcy in the following year.