Etching and drypoint printed in dark brownish black on cream laid paper, 1879-80. 154x228 mm; 6 1/4x9 inches. MacDonald's second state (of 2), before cancellation. Edition of approximately 30. Signed with the butterfly and inscribed "imp" in pencil on the tab, lower left. From Twenty-Six Etchings. A superb, warm impression of this very scarce etching, with selective wiping in the water and inky plate edges.
In July 1879, the Fine Art Society of London commissioned Whistler (1834-1903) to visit Venice and return by December with a set of 12 etched plates. Whistler eagerly accepted the commission, which gave him the chance to recoup his losses from the Ruskin trial and cover costs on the design of his "White House" in Chelsea (the house and contents were auctioned after he declared bankruptcy in 1879) and likely also the means to remove himself from London. One of the ironies of the Ruskin libel case is that the Fine Art Society had organized a collection to pay for Ruskin's legal costs; they subsequently gave Whistler the Venice commission and with it the opportunity to get out of the debt incurred by the trial.
Whistler and his then model and mistress Maud Franklin arrived in Venice in September 1879 and remained there until November 1880. During this time, he produced far more than the dozen etchings stipulated by the commission; he returned from Venice with over 50 etchings, several nocturne paintings and around a hundred pastels.
The Venice etchings are in many ways a continuation of the themes he had been exploring in his 1860s/late 1870s etchings and lithographs of London and The Thames (see lots 151-158). These repeat characteristics include a sketch-like, drawn from nature quality, with an indifference to topographical accuracy and depth. Many of the Venice etchings, with watery foregrounds and high horizon lines, or directly frontal views of building facades, seem very two-dimensional. A number of the Venice scenes have a vignette-like appearance, with central compositions and considerable blank space at the edges of the sheet. Kennedy 203; Glasgow 243.