Americans in Venice: Late 19th and Early 20th Century Prints

SUArt Galleries

August 17, 2017 through May 13, 2018


On September 19, 1879 American artist James McNeill Whistler arrived in Italy with a commission from the Fine Arts Society of London to create twelve etchings of Venice. Over the ensuing fourteen months the artist produced a body of prints that are among the most important of his career. The prints from Whistler’s Venice period are distinguished by the artist’s original approach to capturing the city’s landmarks and out of the way locations, and to his use of etching and drypoint; they are instrumental to an understanding of Whistler’s genius as a printmaker. His etchings and lithographs have arguably become some of the most studied prints in the history of art and they had a significant influence on the art of those who followed him to Venice.

Whistler sought to capture a “Venice of the Venetians” and he braved the cold, damp winter of 1879 to explore the city in search of new subjects that would set his art apart from the view paintings that had defined Venetian cityscapes up to that point. His prints depict palazzo entries, private courtyards and sweeping views over the canal where Venice’s most famous monuments appear rarely and in the background. His career-long interest in the effects of light and water were enhanced by the technical innovations that he developed in this period and these, along with his novel subject matters, created a vision of Venice that was unprecedented in its originality.

This exhibit presents six prints by Whistler from this period, placing them alongside the work of other Americans who were practicing in Italy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The juxtaposition of these works allows the viewer to appreciate both Whistler’s innovations and the different ways in which his work affected that of the artists who followed him. While artists such as Mortimer Menpes, Frank Duveneck, Otto Bacher and Joseph Pennell owe much to Whistler’s innovative style and approach, they also had an impact on the artists who followed them to Venice during the 20th century.