James Abbott McNeill Whistler, ‘SAN BIAGIO’, 1879-1880, Christopher-Clark Fine Art

San Biagio is at the eastern end of the Riva degli Schiavoni. The artist’s kept their boats pulled up on the sloping shore near the ancient archway, just east of the Casa Jankowitz. Whistler must have worked from a gondola, offshore.

Reminiscent of Whistler’s etched response to the Thames, this etching also captures some of the picturesque sensibility of earlier Venetian images by Canaletto. Turning his back on the grand view of the Doge’s Palace, the churches of Santa Maria Della Salute, and San Giorgio Maggiore across the Bacino San Marco (lagoon), Whistler depicted here a mid-seventeenth-century warehouse made into residences for the poor on what is now the Riva dei Sette Martiri. The broad bank was suited for drying sails, an activity that probably occupies the man on the left by the open archway. A graceful sandolo, similar to the lighters shown in Whistler’s Thames prints and paintings, is pulled partway out of the water. Some of the fenestration depicted by Whistler still survives, but the balcony is gone, replaced by a modern iron one. Today, tourists are far more likely to encounter docked cruise ships than Venetian workboats along the built-up quay.

Signature: Hand-signed with the butterfly monogram on a tab below the platemark lower left, also annotated “imp.” in pencil on the tab indicating that the impression was printed by Whistler himself, also signed in the plate with the butterfly at the center of the left edge.

Maria Naylor, Etchings of James A. McN. Whistler, Dover, Publications,,Inc., New York, no. 90 (ill.);
Richard Dorment/Margaret F. MacDonald, James McNeill Whistler, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1994, no. 107, p. 186 (ill.);
Margaret F. MacDonald, Palaces in the Night: Whistler in Venice, Lund Humphries, Hampshire, 2001, no. 81, p. 71 (ill.);
James McNeill Whistler, The Venetian Etchings, Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Art Partnerships International, Ltd., London, 2001, no. 14, p. 38 (ill.);
David Park Curry, James McNeill Whistler: Uneasy Pieces, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 2004, no. 4, p. 337 (ill.)

About James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler changed the course of art history with his radical techniques and adoption of Asian design principles, which emphasized a two-dimensional flattening of painted forms and their arrangement into abstract patterns. A London-based expatriate, Whistler embraced and promoted the doctrine that art should not serve narrative, but rather project the artist’s subjective feelings through the handling of the medium. His revolutionary methods changed existing approaches to oil paint, pastel, watercolor, etching—even interior design and the decorative arts. The flat, expressive, and radically simplified forms in his Venice pastels, and his use of fluid blue and gray pigments in his abstract nocturnes, altered how his contemporaries like Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas saw and understood art. He scandalously named one of his most famous paintings Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1 (1871), suggesting the reduction of a portrait of his mother to an arrangement of formal elements.

American, 1834-1903, Lowell, MA, United States, based in London, United Kingdom