The Piazzetta

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 218
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 257 x 182 mm
Signed: two butterflies at lower left (1); replaced with new butterfly (2-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 9
Known impressions: 51
Catalogues: K.189; M.186; W.155
Impressions taken from this plate  (51)


It was published as No. 12, The Piazzetta, in Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings (the 'First Venice Set') by the Fine Art Society, London, in 1880.


The Piazzetta was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society at the time of publication in 1880, and with other exhibitions of the Venetian etchings at the F.A.S. in 1883 and 1892. 10 In 1880, it was mentioned in reviews rather less than the other etchings, although the British Architect commented on the 'plain straightforward etching, the delicate parts being obtained by careful biting.' 11 Another reviewer commented: '"The Piazetta" and "The Venetian Mast" are striking examples of the artist's graphic powers of realisation; the figures as well as the architectural features of the scenes are indicated with an assured mastery of touch that could scarcely be surpassed.' 12

To illustrate this etching in the 1883 catalogue Whistler chose several earlier press-reviews that criticised him for a lack of accuracy and care:

10: London FAS 1880 (cat. no. 12); see REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

11: 'Mr. Whistler's etchings ...', British Architect, 10 December 1880 (GUL PC 4/19).

12: Anon., unidentified press-cutting, [December 1880], GUL PC 4/15.

“Whistler does not take much pains with his work,” New York Paper.
“A sort of transatlantic impudence in his cleverness.”
“His pictures do not claim to be accurate.” 13

13: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 45).

By selecting these quotations, Whistler showed that not only did an American paper not approve of his work, but the British press sneered at him for being American. At the same time by exhibiting this meticulous and detailed etching he proved that he was an accurate draughtsman and took great 'pains with his work'.

The etching was also shown at the Union League Club in New York in 1881 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890310) lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), and it may have been exhibited by the New York Etching Club in 1882. 14 Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) lent an impression to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890402). 15 Others appeared in International exhibitions in Berlin (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890301) and Philadelphia in 1881, Wolverhampton in 1902, and James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901) lent an impression to the International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1901. 16

It was also for sale in print dealer's shows, particularly at H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1883, 1898 and 1903, 17 and at Obach & Co. in London in 1903. Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought one from the 1898 Wunderlich show (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890303).

After Whistler's death, impressions were shown at the RSA in Edinburgh in 1904, and in the Memorial Exhibitions, including the Grolier Club in New York in 1904, and in Paris and London in 1905 - King Edward VII lent an impression to the London show. 18

14: New York 1881 (cat. no. 156-167); .

15: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 136).

16: Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 233); see REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

17: New York 1898 (cat. no. 134).

18: Edinburgh 1904 (cat. no. 558); New York 1904a (cat. no. 156); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 155).


Most sales were made by or through the Fine Art Society, with the rest of the 'First Venice Set'. By the terms of the agreement, Whistler was allowed to sell proofs, and he did sell one impression direct to the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) on 8 June 1903 for a very high price, £21.0.0. 19

19: [17 June 1903], GUW #13042.

Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) sold an impression with a group of some 301 prints including The Piazzetta to the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, 1882 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890310). The Hamburger Kunsthalle bought one, probably in the 1890s (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890318). One set went to the Royal Collection, including The Piazzetta, which was lent by King Edward VII to the Whistler Memorial show in London in 1905, and sold shortly afterwards through Messrs Agnew and H. Wunderlich & Co. 20

20: London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 155).

Wunderlich's sold a set to Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) in 1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890312). Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) owned an impression of the fifth state which was sold through Wunderlich's in 1898 to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890303). Freer had already bought one in 1897 from Arthur Tooth & Sons (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890304), and was to buy a fourth state from F. Keppel & Co. in 1902 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890305). Finally, a unique early working proof, torn up and probably thrown away by the artist, was sold by Thomas Way (1837-1915) to Freer (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890001).
At auction, prices were in the middle range. For instance, at the sale of the important collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) in 1892 The Piazzetta was bought by the print dealer Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915) of Deprez & Gutekunst for £4.0.0. In 1897, in the sale of the collection of Mrs Edward Fisher of Abbotsbury, Newton Abbot, 'The Piazzetta, Venice' was bought by Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) for £6.0.0 (with The Doorway). 21

21: Sotheby’s, 3 March 1892 (lot 244); Christie’s, 13-14 July 1897 (lot 302).

Other early collectors included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) by 1881 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890314); Gardiner Greene Hubbard (1822-1897) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890204); John Henry Wrenn (1841-1911) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890502); J.L Claghorn (d. 1882) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890203, Graphic with a link to impression #K1890307); John Pomeroy Townsend (1832-1898) and Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890325); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) by 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890402); Atherton Curtis (1863-1944) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890315); Charles Deering (1852-1927) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890302, Graphic with a link to impression #K1890z04); and A. J. Parsons (1857-1935) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890403). Arthur Haythorne Studd (1863-1919) bequeathed an impression to the British Museum (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890309) as did Hans Velten (1857?-1930) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1890506).