copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Whistler originally went Venice after being awarded a farthing in damages and humiliated in the libel case against Ruskin and to make some money from a commission by the Fine Art Society to produce 12 etchings of Venice. In the end he stayed for nearly 14 months and produced a huge quantity of work and, it would appear, enjoyed himself so much he had to be bribed to return home!
Whistler arrived in Venice bankrupt in the wake of a sensational libel trial against John Ruskin in London. Venice proved both restorative and transforming for Whistler-it released a flood of creativity that enabled him to reestablish his finances, his reputation, and to a degree his personal life. His representations of well-known landmarks, including the church of Santa Mariadella Salute and the Rialto Bridge, as well as many minor courts, alleys, and back canals, established a new and original iconography of the city. Upon his return to London, Whistler exhibited his Venice works and graduallyreassumed a leading place in the Victorian art avant-garde ("Whistler's Venice" Bookjacket).I acquired "Whistler's Venice" by Alastair Grieve after seeing the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition in Paris. I was hugely impressed by Whistler's pastel drawings and etchings of Venice and wanted to know more and this book delivers! It provides:
- information about the 50 etchings and around 100 pastels of Venice he produced during a 14 month stay - locating each work on a detailed map and comparing it to photographs of location
- reproductions of all the work
- details about Whistler's methods and techniques - and comparisons with others working in Venice at around the same time.
- the Smithsonian Institution: Freer Gallery of Art / Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
His pastels are incredibly difficult to emulate. His line is so sparse and economical coupled with very limited use of pastel - often leaving lots of paper showing (both under and around the scumble). This makes them very much a 'sketch' in my book. I was going to do a pastel as well - and this post may yet be updated with a pastel "after Mr Whistler". [And it now is - however mine has far too much pastel on the paper compared to his!]
What did I learn from Whistler month?
I learned a quite a few things, including a lot more about his life which was simply extraordinary! I've read more than I've written here and, as an individual, he's a very interesting if rather self-opinionated person. However - focusing on the art:
- I very much like the value and emphasis he places on drawing and in trying to develop new ways of representing scenes.
- I also like his compositions - he tries to find a new perspective on familiar views.
- His 'nocturnes' and flat simplified views which drew so much criticism at the time for their 'unfinished' state would not be out of place in any contemporary art gallery.
- I very much like the ideas he had about simplifying colour palettes, as well as motifs, and of working in harmonious palettes. That's something I shall be exploring further in future.
- I'm certainly going to be looking back at the sketches I made and photos taken in Venice with a view to maybe creating pen and ink drawings. His etchings and paintings of the River Thames will also be enormously helpful in developing the series I'm planning.
- Whistler's Venice (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies) published by Yale University Press 2000 ISBN 0-300-08449-8
- "Whistler and his circle in Venice" by Erik Denken © 2003 The Corcoran Gallery of Art
ISBN 1-85894-200-4 (Artscope.net - book review)
- Impressionism and the Making of Modern Art (Princeton blog) - "Whistler in Venice" (Jen Om Princeton Class of 2009) - check the links
- Tate Gallery
- Smithsonian Institution: Freer Gallery of Art / Arthur M. Sackler Gallery:
- Whistler's Pastels - Bruce W. Chambers, Ph.D., director, The Willard L. Metcalf Catalogue Raisonne, co-authored by Dr. William H. Gerdts and Ira Spanierman (Spanierman Gallery LLC)
- University of Glasgow: The Etchings Project