UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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1st December 2003 - Mr Whistler's Etchings of Venice

The flamboyant entrepreneur, and old friend of Whistler, Charles Augustus Howell, was delighted to receive the following invitation late in 1880:

"THE FINE ART SOCIETY
REQUEST THE PLEASURE OF YOUR ATTENDANCE
AT
THE PRIVATE VIEW
OF A SET OF
MR. WHISTLER'S
ETCHINGS OF VENICE

[butterfly signature]

ON WEDNESDAY,
1ST DECEMBER
12 O'CLOCK

148 NEW BOND STREET."

(GUL MS Whistler LB 12/34)

So at midday, Howell turned up in Bond Street, to meet Whistler and Maud Franklin, the architect E. W. Godwin, and a bustling crowd of artists, fashionable ladies, aristocratic gentlemen, and wealthy patrons.

Maud Franklin told one of their American friends, who was still in Venice:

"He has been frightfully occupied every day and every hour since we came home in bringing out the etchings and pastels - the etchings of course were exhibited first and were a great success ..."

(Freer Gallery of Art, FGA Whistler 177a)

Twelve superb etchings framed in white hung in the back room at the Fine Art Society; the subjects ranging from gaunt beggars in a chilly courtyard off the Campo Santa Margherita, to gondoliers waiting for clients, from renaissance palaces to back-streets hung with washing.

Journalists were there in force, and Whistler kept their reviews in press-cutting books for future reference (later he used excerpts to mock the critics in a catalogue of the etchings in 1883). The Glasgow Herald excelled itself: 'Whistler is eminently vulgar' said the critic. However, reviews were on the whole complimentary; many admired the skilful technique required to convey light, tone and mood through exquisite draughtsmanship and dramatic inking of the copper-plates.

These etchings, and those of the second Venice set, were printed by Whistler with the assistance of an enthusiastic team: Walter Sickert, Mortimer Menpes, Maud Franklin and Godwin's wife Beatrice (later to become Whistler's wife).

Superb impressions of these etchings are currently on view in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. The exhibition also includes some of Whistler's finest pastels, showing all the rich and subtle colours of that most beautiful city. The scenes include a unique and mysterious drawing, Palace in Rags, and pastels of the glorious church of the Frari, a fish-market by the Grand Canal, and an atmospheric nocturne of the lagoon, with distant lights and the church of San Giorgio Maggiore dimly seen by moonlight. A beautiful and challenging exhibition, the Burrell show includes new information on the way the etchings were printed, on the subjects - people and places - chosen, as well as fiendish puzzles for connoisseurs and kids of all ages.

Palaces in the Night: Whistler in Venice is at The Burrell Collection, Glasgow, from now until 18 January 2004, daily 10am-5pm (except Friday and Sunday 11am-5pm). Events include workshops for children, and a demonstration of how to paint a Whistler (13 December).