Date of Award

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Katharine Wells

Second Advisor

Nicole Joerger


This thesis explores “A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames” (1859-1871), Thames Set, by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), a group of etchings that negotiates the effects of the “Great Stink” on the Thames riverbank and its people. I argue that the series exhibits a strange paradox: the intentional exclusion of accurate environmental elements and sensorial details to achieve a romanticized nostalgic framework that serves Whistler’s aesthetic ideals. This aestheticization of the environmental crisis is the foundation from which Whistler’s modernization grew. Recent research has understood the Thames Set as evidence of Whistler’s involvement in depicting lower-class environments with domestic realism. Yet this paper demonstrates how the Thames Set, although photographic in style, is a romanticized view of the river’s banks and ignores the harsh realities of filth that surrounded the river. Only a year before the creation of the first etching in the series, Thames Warehouse (1859), London endured the summer of the Great Stink. While Whistler’s series of etchings capture the changing environment and society on the Thames, they avoid the filth imposed on citizens of London brought by the Great Stink. Drawing on recent approaches to ecocritical art history, this paper shows how Whistler’s Thames Set creates a view of the river Thames without “the Stink,” idealizing the scenery over the sensory, and capturing life without filth, or more accurately with aestheticized filth.