The Venice Sets

Following Whistler's bankruptcy in May 1879, the Fine Art Society commissioned him to go to Venice and return by December with a set of twelve prints. In the event his inspiration ran away with him and he did not return until November of 1880, bringing back many more plates. Twelve were selected for publication as Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings (known as 'The First Venice Set') and were exhibited at the Fine Art Society in December 1880. A larger exhibition was held in 1883, including the etchings later published in 1886 by Dowdeswells' as A Set of Twenty-Six Etchings (known as 'The Second Venice Set').

The printing of the edition of the Second Set was completed by July 1887, but the printing of the First Set was still not complete at the artist's death in 1903.

The Beggars

from 'The First Venice Set'

Image["Object Number P.3-2008"]

Etching and drypoint printed on 'antique' laid paper trimmed by the artist, 1879-80.

In July 1879 the Fine Art Society commissioned Whistler to go to Venice and return by December with a set of etched plates. Whistler set off in September but did not return until the following November, having etched many more plates than he took with him. Twelve were initially selected for publication as 'The First Venice Set' (Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings) and were exhibited at the Fine Art Society in December 1880. A second exhibition was held in 1883 (see Etchings & Dry Points. Venice Second Series, London 1883, 1st & 2nd editions) and 'The Second Venice Set' published in 1886 (see Long Lagoon).

This is one of the largest prints in the series, larger than the plates that Whistler brought with him from London; he ordered a plate specially from a local Venetian craftsman. The view shows a passageway leading from the enclosed Corte de la Carozze to the brightly lit Campo Santa Margarita in Dorsoduro. The figures were altered after his return to London, with the help of a separate drawing, and with the printer Thomas Way serving as a model. The remarkable depiction of light around the dark figure of the boatman on the right of the passageway became less prominent in later state changes made during the protracted process of printing the edition, which (as in the case of Reading in Bed) remained incomplete at Whistler's death.

Bought with the help of the Art Fund and the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund 2008

P.3-2008


The Doorway

from 'The First Venice Set'

Image["Object Number P.2-2008"]

Etching, roulette and drypoint printed on 'antique' laid paper trimmed by the artist., 1879-80

Etched on one of the largest 'Hughes & Kimber' plates that Whistler took with him from London to Venice, this view of the Palazzo Gussoni was drawn from a boat on the Rio de la Fava, east of the Rialto. A chair-repairer's stock of chairs hangs above the interior. In successive states the artist changed the figure leaning over the water. In this rich impression of the penultimate state, he used inks of two different consistencies and colours to distinguish pictorial elements: a crisper, stiffer black ink for the architectural details, and a softer brown ink for the dimly-lit interior and the water. Apart from a few etched marks and striations made with a spiked roulette, the reflection in the canal is achieved entirely by Whistler manipulating the ink on the surface of the plate at the printing stage, making each impression unique.

Whistler's printing was influenced by contemporary interest in the 'monotype' process, which involved an artist brushing ink directly onto a blank printing plate. Whistler would have known the monotypes of Vicomte Lodovic Lepic, and one of Whistler's companions in Venice, Otto Bacher, was keen on making monotypes at this time.

As in the case of The Beggars, the printing of the edition of this plate continued throughout Whistler's lifetime and remained incomplete at his death.

Bought with the help of the Art Fund and the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund 2008

P.2-2008

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Long Lagoon

from 'The Second Venice Set'

Image["Object Number P.141-1961"]

Etching printed on Dutch(?) laid paper trimmed by the artist, 1880

Etched on one of the middle-sized plates that Whistler brought with him from London to Venice, this print was exhibited in 1883 but not published until 1886 as one of the 26 prints issued by Dowdeswells' in 'The Second Venice Set'. One of the most expansive of the Venetian views, it looks west across the Lagoon to the Giudecca, with the dome of the Redentore church, seen probably from the area around the Public Gardens, or from a boat nearby. This rare impression was cleanly printed in black ink before Whistler etched his monogram on the plate; later impressions were typically printed in browner ink, with lavish tonal wiping effects. As in The Beggars and The Doorway, Whistler's graphite inscription confirms that he printed it himself.

The original mount of this print (only a fragment survives) is inscribed in ink by Whistler To Mrs George Lewis and signed with his butterfly. The recipient was Elizabeth Lewis, who also owned Balcony, Amsterdam. She passed the print (and mount) to her daughter Katherine, who bequeathed them to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1961. Unfortunately at some point the mount was separated from the print. The original appearance is here recreated photographically, with the extent of the missing top margin estimated from the appearance of other surviving Whistler mounts. When the print was first exhibited in 1883 it would have been displayed in a white frame as part of Whistler's 'Arrangement in White and Yellow' (see Etchings & Dry Points. Venice Second Series, London 1883, 1st & 2nd editions).

Bequeathed by Katherine Elizabeth Lewis 1961

P.141-1961

Etchings & Dry Points. Venice Second Series, London 1883, 1st & 2nd editions

Whistler called his second exhibition of Venetian prints at the Fine Art Society in 1883, an 'Arrangement in White and Yellow'. It was 'Sparkling and dainty-and all so sharp-White walls of different whites, with painted mouldings-not gilded!-yellow velvet curtains-pale yellow matting-yellow sofas and little chairs-lovely little table yellow-own design-with yellow pot and Tiger Lily!... etchings in their exquisite white frames-with their little butterflies-large white butterfly on yellow curtains and yellow butterfly on white wall-and [a] servant in yellow livery' to hand out this catalogue. He gave his allies yellow butterflies 'to wear defiantly with the brave and beautiful on the great day'. For the catalogue, he culled quotes from previous criticism of his work, adding his own marginal glosses to hold his critics up to ridicule.

The three Venetian prints included in this exhibition were accompanied by the following quotes:

The Beggars
"In the character of humanity he has not time to be interested." - Standard
"General absence of tone" - P. G. Hamerton

The Doorway
"'There is seldom in his Etchings any large arrangement of light and shade." - P. G. Hamerton
"Short, scratchy lines." - St. James's Gazette
"The architectural ornaments and the interlacing bars of the gratings are suggested rather than drawn." - St. James's Gazette
"Amateur prodige" - Saturday Review

Long Lagoon
"We think that London fogs and the muddy old Thames supply Mr Whistler's needle with subjects more congenial than do the Venetian palaces and lagoons" - Daily News


Image["Whistler cartoon"]

Illustration:
Wood-engraving after George du Maurier (1834-1896) pasted at an early date into Harold Hulme Brindley's copy of Whistler's 1883 Venetian exhibition catalogue.

Given by Sir Herbert Thompson 1920 and Harold H. Brindley 1918



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The Fitzwilliam Museum : The Venice Sets 1879-80

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