• Venice Harbor
  • Venice Harbor

Venice Harbor

A view across the water to buildings and sailing vessels, including, at the extreme right, two sailboats, one with a red and yellow sail; signed with the butterfly at lower left corner.
Maker nationality and date
Watercolor on paper
H x W: 12.2 x 27.8 cm (4 13/16 x 10 15/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Object Number
Production location
Italy, Venice
Blue butterfly in lower left corner
Selected Curatorial Remarks

1. Glazer, Jacobson, McCarthy, Roeder, wall label, 2019:
Two pivotal events in Whistler's career occurred in 1877 and 1878: a falling-out over the Peacock Room with his primary patron, industrialist Frederick Leyland, and an expensive libel suit against critic John Ruskin. The Ruskin trial transformed Whistler into a celebrity, but it also left him bankrupt. Hoping to recover financially, he accepted a three-month commission from the Fine Art Society of London to produce a set of twelve etchings of Venice. More than a year later, he returned from Italy with fifty etchings, a hundred pastels, several oil paintings, and at least three watercolors. Blurring distinctions between pastel, watercolor, and etching, Whistler manipulated materials to capture the evocative atmosphere of Venice.

2. Kenneth Myers, wall label, 2003:
One of only two watercolors Whistler is known to have completed while in Venice, Venice Harbour depicts a view from the public gardens, looking northwest toward St. Mark's basilica. The brown tower left of center is the Campanile, which rises behind the pale facade of the Doge's Palace. Along with a related pastel Whistler titled The Giudecca-Winter; grey and blue (now in a private collection), Venice Harbour was probably completed in November or December 1879.

Selected Published References
1. Curry: James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art, Pg. 176
In scale and composition, Venice Harbor resembles the broad and distant Venetian views in related prints and pastels. Except for a smear of ocher, red, and black in the large boat at the right, the colors have a dry and scrubbed appearance, with a great deal of paper left showing. Touches of semi-opaque gouache help give substance to the buildings strung across the center of the sheet. While Whistler received a good deal of attention for his etchings and pastels of Venice, little notice was generated by scenes of the city executed in watercolor. J.M.W. Turner was noted for his watercolors of Venice, and the critic John Ruskin had championed Turner while attacking Whistler. Since Whistler came to the Italian city immediately after the financially disastrous Ruskin libel suit, it is possible that he decided not to create his vision of Venice using Turner's medium.
Catalogue Raisonne number
MacDonald Catalogue number
Previous owner(s)
Thomas Way Sr. (1837-1915)
Thomas Robert Way (C.L. Freer source) (1861-1913)
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919)
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)
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