The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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John Wharlton Bunney, 1828-1882

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1828
Place of Birth: London
Date of Death: 1882.09
Place of Death: Venice, Italy


John Wharlton Bunney was a painter of landscapes and meticulous architectural views, heavily influenced by John Ruskin.


Bunney was a clerk with Smith, Elder and Co. (Ruskin's publishers before George Allen) when he enrolled at the Working Men's College in London. In 1857 he exhibited two works, a painting and a watercolour, in the American Exhibition of British Art and was described at the time as a pupil of Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti by the critic William Michael Rosetti. Ruskin's influence prompted Bunney to visit the Alps but, by 1864, when he exhibited at the Royal Academy, he was residing mainly in Florence, where he was friendly with William Holman Hunt (who was in Florence periodically between 1866-69), and remained there until the end of the decade. In 1869 Bunney was working as Ruskin's assistant in Verona.

For the last twelve years of his life, 1870-1882, Bunney worked primarily in Venice. His last six years were virtually devoted to one scrupulously detailed work, The West Front of St Marks, commissioned by Ruskin. During his last visit to Venice, in September 1876-May 1877, Ruskin was instrumental in the campaign to prevent the modification of the West Front of St Marks and, as a result, had challenged various artists to copy it. Bunney reputedly devoted 600 days to this work and it stands as a testament to the principles of Ruskin's 'historic landscape art'. A memorial exhibition of Bunney's work was held at the Fine Art Society in 1882.

Whistler was working in Venice 1879-1880, after his libel suit against Ruskin in 1878, which had resulted in his own bankruptcy. One day in the Piazza san Marco, in 1879 or 1880, Whistler attached a notice to the unfortunate Bunney's back proclaiming 'I am totally blind', while Bunney laboured on oblivious to the indignity.


Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, vol. 1; Staley, Allen,The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape, Oxford, 1973; Wood, Christopher, The Dictionary of Victorian Painters, 2nd ed., revised, Woodbridge, 1978; MacDonald, Margaret F., Palaces in the Night Whistler in Venice, Aldershot, 2001.