Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

Home > Catalogue > Browse > The Thames in Ice <<   >>

The Thames in Ice


The Thames in Ice, Freer Gallery of Art
The Thames in Ice, Freer Gallery of Art

The Thames in Ice may have been painted from the same inn as Wapping [YMSM 035], and is comparable to that painting in technique to a certain extent. It is, however, much sketchier. Whistler called this 'the Thames Ice Sketch', implying it was not a highly finished painting. 1

The factories and warehouses on the far bank were painted before the foreground shipping, in muted greys, and were painted carefully, the outlines soft-edged and merging with the sky. The masts of the barges along the far shore were added lightly on top of these buildings. Shipping on the river was added much more boldly, with thicker paint. The rigging was painted with so dry a brush that the weave of the canvas (a fairly fine weave) is clearly seen as a regular pattern. There is some impasto on the white paint in the foreground, the ice in the water, and on the boom of the ship, which were painted with bold, slashing, strokes. The 1980 catalogue commented:

'The strength of the painting lies in its colour, the muted colour of a frosty, foggy London, and in the long straight brushstrokes with which Whistler built up the receding planes of floating ice and snow along the river.' 2

Conservation History

In 1921, a yellowed covering of hard gum was removed; it was relined and resurfaced in 1922, surfaced in 1933, and cleaned and surfaced in 1951. In 1965 Ben Johnson removed heavy discoloured varnish, and repaired an area of whitened retouching at lower right. It was cleaned, revarnished, restretched, inpainted and varnished. 3


Grau-style, American, after 1902 [17.15 cm]. The frame was regilded in 1960. 4


1: Whistler to G. A. Lucas, 26 June [1862], GUW #11977.

2: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 36).

3: Freer Gallery of Art files, 1980.

4: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more].

Last updated: 6th February 2021 by Margaret