An American in Venice: James McNeill Whistler and His Legacy


October 10 – December 5, 2015 

Gallery II
Organized by the Syracuse University Art Collection

In 1879 American artist James McNeill Whistler arrived in Italy with a commission from the Fine Arts Society of London to create twelve etchings of Venice. Over the ensuing fourteen months the artist produced a body of prints that are among the most important of his career. The prints from Whistler’s Venice period are distinguished by the artist’s original approach to capturing the unique qualities of the canaled city and his innovative use of the etching process.  His prints have arguably become the most studied prints in the history of art– after those of Rembrandt – and they had a significant influence on his followers.

Whistler sought to capture a “Venice of the Venetians,” and his prints depict palazzo entries, private courtyards and sweeping views over the canal where Venice’s most famous monuments rarely appear or are background features. His career-long interest in the effects of light and water were enhanced by his technical innovations developed in this period.

This exhibit presents eleven prints by Whistler, placing them alongside the work of followers who were practicing in Italy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  The juxtaposition of these works allows the viewer to appreciate both Whistler’s innovations and the different ways in which his work affected the artists who followed him. While artists such as Mortimer Menpes and Joseph Pennell still enjoy a modicum of fame, other artists in this exhibit, like Minna Bolingbroke, have faded.  Whistler’s legacy lies in his far-reaching vision for both his medium and his subject, which has made his art significant for a remarkably broad range of colleagues.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Long Venice, c.1879-1880, Etching on laid paper, Gift of Mr. Cloud Wampler, SUAC 1963.1022, Courtesy of the Syracuse University Art Collection

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