The Riva

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 229
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 202 x 298 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 55
Catalogues: K.192; M.189; W.157
Impressions taken from this plate  (55)


The Riva was published in Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings (the 'First Venice Set') by the Fine Art Society, London, in 1880.
In January 1883 the F.A.S. paid Whistler £105 for the 339 impressions delivered by then (1881-82). 13 In the first half of 1883 Whistler printed 60 impressions (= 5 dozen) of the 'First Venice Set' and other Venice plates at £5.5.0 per dozen. The F.A.S. paid on 9 August 1883. In April 1889 the F.A.S. bought 60 impressions of the 'First Venice Set' at £5.5.0 per dozen. 14

13: GUW #01153.

14: GUW #01185 (list of printings).


THE FINE ART SOCIETY: The Riva was exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London in 1880. The St James's Gazette selected this etching for exceptional praise:
'The best examples of his earlier work, such as "Black Lion Wharf", "The Thames near Wapping", "The Thames at Limehouse", "The Limeburners." and many others, each contained as striking an impression of a momentary effect or of a prevailing genius loci as we see in the best of these plates, such as "The Riva", "The Doorway," "The Little Venice," or "The Little Lagoon", besides which, they afforded us an opportunity of enjoyment in the technique of the artist, of which we are now deprived. Perhaps the best of the series are the three called respectively "The Riva," "The Doorway," and "The Little Venice," in the order in which I have named them; ... The first is a vivid rendering of the teeming life which is the main characteristic of the one wide street in Venice. On our left stretches the long line of buildings, from a little beyond the prison nearly to the public gardens; palaces and churches are mingled with more humble shops and dwellings. To the right is the canal with its crowd of gondolas and fishing-boats, the long yards of the latter swinging over the heads of the people who throng the quay. The etching is a "bird's-eye view," and must have been taken from some window in the neighbourhood of Daniele's Hotel.' 15

15: 'Mr. Whistler's Venice', St James' Gazette, 9 December 1880 (GUL Whistler PC4/16).

In 1883 Whistler used a short excerpt from this 1880 review as a commentary on his other view of the Riva degli Schiavoni, Riva, No. 2 [230].
The Riva was also shown at the F.A.S. in 1883 and in the reprise of the same show at Wunderlich's in New York later in the same year. In the F.A.S. exhibition catalogue entry for 'Riva' in 1883 Whistler mocked his critics with two short quotations from earlier reviews, the first by Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921), and an ironic marginal note:
"He took from London to Venice his happy fashion of suggesting lapping water."—F. Wedmore.
REFLECTION: Like Eno's Fruit Salt or the "Anti-mal-de-Mer."
"Even such a well-worn subject as the Riva degli Schiavoni is made original (?) by being taken from a high point of view, and looked at lengthwise, instead of from the canal." 16

16: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 30); the question mark is Whistler's.

In 1881 The Riva was at the centre of what Whistler called 'The Haden-Piker-Painter etcher Plot'. Frank Duveneck (1848-1919) had exhibited etchings of Venice, including one of The Riva looking towards the Grand Ducal Palace, in the exhibition of the newly formed Painter Etcher's Society, at the Hanover Gallery in London.
Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), Alphonse Legros (1837-1911) and Dr Edward Hamilton (1815 or 1816-1903), a print collector, visited Whistler's exhibition at the Fine Art Society and questioned Ernest George Brown (1853/1854-1915) about the terms of Whistler's engagement with the F.A.S. They then asked Brown to accompany them to see the Hanover Gallery etchings. The implication, according to Whistler, was that there was no such person as Duveneck, and that the etchings were in fact by Whistler, and were a breach of his contract with the F.A.S. However, Haden assured Marcus Bourne Huish (1843-1904) that he had never mistaken Duveneck's etchings for Whistler's and had indeed written asking if he could puchase them. 17

Whistler queried Haden's account and asked: 'Of what nature, pray, is the "necessary duty" that has led two medical men and a Slade Professor to fail as Connoisseurs, and blunder as Detectives? -' 18 The related correspondence was published by Whistler as a pamphlet (The Piker Papers. The Painter-Etchers' Society and Mr Whistler.) 19 Maud Franklin (1857- ca 1941) wrote to another American etcher who had known both Duveneck and Whistler in Venice:

17: 21 March 1881, GUW #10992.

18: Whistler to Haden, 9 March [1881], GUW #13147; partly published in The Cuckoo, 30 April 1881.

19: Whistler 1881 A

'You can imagine Whistler when the man tells him all this. He, of course, explains that Mr Duveneck is a great personal friend of his who was in Venice at the same time - who was with all his "boys" - was very much amongst all the etching business and consequently any similarity of style could only have occurred from that.' 20

20: [12/30 April 1881], GUW Otto Henry Bacher (1856-1909).

Impression: K1920305
Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) lent his impression to the Union League Club in New York in 1881 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920316). 21 Impressions were shown at major international and public exhibitions, with other etchings from the 'First Venice Set', including Philadelphia and Berlin (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920314) in 1881. 22

Later exhibitions included those at print dealers, including H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York, first in 1883, followed by one in 1898 and two in 1903; Obach & Co. in London in 1903, and F. Keppel & Co. in New York in 1904. 23 Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought a fourth state (reproduced above) from Wunderlich's in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920305).

One impression was lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) to the show organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920303). 24 In the same year, under the title 'The Rival' (a mistake or a joke?) an impression was shown in East Melbourne by Messrs Robertson & Moffatt. 25 In 1901, an impression was shown in an International Exhibition in Glasgow.

Later, after Whistler's death, impressions were shown at the Grolier Club in New York and the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh in 1904, and at the Whistler Memorial Exhibitions in London - lent by King Edward VII - and Paris in 1905. Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) lent an impression to the big Whistler exhibition held in Rotterdam in 1906 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920324). 26

21: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 156-167).

22: Berlin 1881 (cat. no. 714).

23: New York 1898 (cat. no. 136); see REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

24: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 138).

25: Punch, East Melbourne, 14 June 1900.

26: New York 1904a (cat. no. 159); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 157); Rotterdam 1906 (cat. no. 46).


Most impressions were sold through the Fine Art Society with the 'First Venice Set'. One set including 'Motiv aus Venedig' was sold to the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin in 1882 by Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892), possibly on commission from the F.A.S (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920314). 27

27: Inventory books, Kupferstichkabinett Berlin.

Whistler did sell an impression - presumably a printer's proof, which he was entitled to sell - to the South Kensington Museum in 1890 for £10.10.0, but it was returned on 21 August! 28 As a result they had to wait until 1968, when the Victoria & Abert Museum bought an impression of the fourth state, which had come from the artist's estate, from the University of Glasgow (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920322), which already had an impression of the fourth state in the collection (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920324).

28: 2 July 1890, GUW #13044.

An impression was sold from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) at Sotheby's, London, on 3 March 1892 (lot 248) described as a 'trial proof, with two additional figures' and bought by the print dealer, Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915) of Deprez & Gutekunst for £5.5.0, while lot 249, 'The Riva' described as 'The same, the two figures removed [trial proof]' was bought by Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) of F. Keppel & Co. for £3.0.0. The latter, actually a fourth state, was acquired by Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920320).

Whistler sold an impression in 1897 to H. Wunderlich & Co. of New York for £6.6.0, and sold them another in 1900 for a much higher price, £10.10.0. 29

29: Wunderlich's to Whistler, June/August 1897 (net price) GUW #07288; 6 April 1900, #07322.

Major collectors included Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), who bought a cancelled impression from the Max Williams Co. in 1893 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920324), a fourth state, originally owned by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), from Wunderlich's in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920305), and finally, the first and second states from F. Keppel & Co. in 1901 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920102, Graphic with a link to impression #K1920202).
Other collectors included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), who owned a fourth state dating from 1881 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920316); J.L Claghorn (d. 1882) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920204); Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) bought a complete set from Wunderlich's in 1890 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920311); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916), also probably bought from Wunderlich's (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920303); Charles Deering (1852-1927) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920304); Hans Velten (1857?-1930) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920308); John Pomeroy Townsend (1832-1898) and Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920313); Atherton Curtis (1863-1944) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920317); Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920320, Graphic with a link to impression #K1920321) and Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920z09). Finally, Walter M. Hill (1868-1952) and Walter Stanton Brewster (1872-1954) each owned a cancelled impression (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920403), as did John Davis Batchelder (1872-1958) (Graphic with a link to impression #K1920404).