Seen from the water, which dominates the foreground, a barge with a standing man and woman occupy the middle distance. Beyond to the left a three-masted ship is in dry-dock, separated from other buildings and activities on the right by a small inlet of water. Behind the barge to the right is a complex of clapboard buildings; at the far right is another sailing ship pulled out of water. A group of men with flaming torches are tarring the exterior of the hull. This is a view of a busy dockyard along the river Thames under a blustery, cloudy sky.
The London lithographic printer Thomas Way introduced Whistler to lithography; this is Whistler's first lithograph, drawn on stone from a boat that Way provided the artist. Whistler was becoming acquainted with the potentials of this new medium and discovered that the image was printing too dark and needed to lighten the overall image by scraping away some of what he had drawn.