The Fine Art Society and Robert Simon Fine Art

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James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
7 3/4 x 11 1/2 in. • 197 x 292 mm
signed in pencil with a butterfly and inscribed 'imp' printed in brown ink on laid paper, trimmed to the platemark by the artist, leaving a signature tab. An impression in the fifth state (of five): published in 'Twelve Etchings' the First Venice Set (No.4), 1880 in an edition of 100


Edward G. Kennedy, The Etched Work of Whistler, (1910) no.184

Further Information

The Fine Art Society's commission for a series of etchings in Venice was the pivotal event in Whistler's career. Coming in 1879, shortly after his bankruptcy it provided him with an escape from London and the humiliations he had suffered. The waterways, the atmosphere and the distinctive architecture of Venice must have had an immediate attraction for an artist who had committed to memory night time views of the Thames that he painted upon his returned to the studio.
The concept of the 'Nocturne' had first been suggested by Whistler's patron, Frederick Leyland, to describe Whistler's night scenes of the Thames. The word was equally appropriate to these Venice etchings, the most dramatic and exquisite of the artist's prints, each possessing unique tonal attributes, no one quite the same as another. As the Whistler scholar, Ruth Fine, noted, 'of all the Venice etchings, Nocturne is printed with the greatest kind of variation between impressions. Indeed, depending upon the quality
of the tonal wiping, the time of day appears to range from dusk to midnight to dawn.'
Nocturne was exhibited in Whistler's seminal show Arrangement in White and Yellow in 1883 at The Fine Art Society (No. 8). Between February 1881 and May 1889 Whistler delivered ninety-seven different impressions to the gallery plus the cancelled plate
in April 1889.