Artist: James McNeill Whistler (American, Lowell, Massachusetts 1834–1903 London)
Date: ca. 1880
Medium: Charcoal and pastel on dark brown wove paper
Dimensions: 11 3/4 x 7 1/4 in. (29.8 x 18.4 cm)
Credit Line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1917
Accession Number: 17.97.5
Whistler went to Venice in the fall of 1879 with a commission to make etchings for the Fine Art Society of London and, thereby, to help repair his finances, which had been damaged by the lawsuit he had brought—and won—in 1878 against the English critic John Ruskin. During his sojourn, he also created about 100 pastels that feature the expanse of the city and its lagoon and vignettes of narrow alleyways and picturesquely worn buildings. Here, dark brown paper and sketchy black lines form an armature against which Whistler drew color patches that pertain to doorways, bits of drapery, and a few women and children. Seeing Whistler's Venice pastels on view in London in January 1881, a critic for The Times observed sympathetically: "These 'pastels' of Mr. Whistler are his perfect works—suggestive little pictures which, if he had tried to make them more than this, would have been deformed into elaborate failures. So it is that . . . Mr. Whistler, with his slightest sketch, sets the imagination going and makes us conjure up a picture of some well-remembered beauty."