The Rialto

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 199
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 298 x 203 mm
Signed: butterfly at left (3)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Second Venice Set', 1886
No. of States: 3
Known impressions: 36
Catalogues: K.211; M.208; W.181
Impressions taken from this plate  (36)


It was published by Messrs Dowdeswell and Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) with A Set of Twenty-six Etchings (the 'Second Venice Set') in 1886.

Whistler delivered in all 1093 prints and was paid £2.10.6 for printing each dozen prints. 8

8: Dowdeswell to Whistler, invoice 16 July 1887, GUW #00891.


The Rialto was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London in 1883, and in the reprise of this show by H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in the same year. In the F.A.S. catalogue, Whistler published selections from earlier reviews of his work, including, in this case:
'"Mr. Whistler has etched too much for his reputation." - F. Wedmore.
"Scampering caprice". - S. Colvin.
"Mr. Whistler's drawing, which is sometimes that of a very slovenly master."' 9

9: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 41).

And in the margin , Whistler printed his own comment:
'REFLECTION: This Critic, it is true, is a Slade Professor.' accompanied by a manic butterfly with a sting in its tail.
Targetting Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) and Sidney Colvin (1845-1927) (who was Slade Professor at Cambridge University) was, to say the least, confrontational. The selection was a direct challenge to their earlier criticisms, and was emphasized by the topographical accuracy, precision of draughtsmanship, and expressive line of the etching. The comment by Henry Quilter (1851-1907) was cut from a review of Whistler's Venice pastels in The Spectator published several years earlier, on 11 December 1880. 10

At the time of the F.A.S. 1883 show, The Rialto received a range of critical comments. The Queen thought The Rialto 'good both in tone and line', catching 'life and movement in the scene generally.' 11 The Globe critic was more ambivalent :

10: 'Mr. Whistler's "Venice" at the Fine-Art Society, New Bond Street', Spectator, vol. 53, no. 2737, 11 December 1880, pp.1586-7 (GUL PC4, pp.13, 82).

11: Anon., 'An Arrangement in White and Yellow', The Queen, 24 February 1883 (GUL PC 25/24).

'In consequence of the capricious mode of treatment which Mr. Whistler sometimes affects, the value of some of the works is not proportionate to the great ability which they display. In the view of "The Rialto," from the market place, for instance, a very high point of view, from which the various elements of the subject do not harmoniously combine, has been chosen ...' 12

12: Anon., 'Mr Whistler's Etchings', Globe, 19 February 1883 (GUL PC 25/19).

The art critic of the St James Gazette appreciated that this was a well-known site, if seen from a slightly unusual viewpoint
'Of the plates dealing with outdoor subjects, and therefore with Venice as it is known to most foreign visitors, the best are, perhaps, new and greatly improved versions of the "Riva" and of the "Doorway," and a peep towards the Rialto down the narrow vista of the Strada dei Tedeschi. The sunlight upon the tall houses, the busy throng of cloaked and hooded Venetians ascending and descending the steps to the famous piazza, and the foreshortended bow of the bridge in the foreground make up a little work which will charm all those who look upon literalness as one of the chief merits of a work of art. This plate, the later and better of the two "Rivas", and one or two more are notable for a fine instinct in the arrangement and delineation, not exactly of crowds, but of numerous little figures bustling about their work or idling in the sunshine after the manner of Italy.' 13

13: St James Gazette, 20 February 1883 (GUL PC 25/30).

Later print dealers' shows include H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and (twice) in 1903; Obach & Co. in London in 1903, F. Keppel & Co., New York in 1902 and 1904. 14

Impressions were shown in International Exhibitions, including Glasgow in 1888, lent by Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924) (possibly Graphic with a link to impression #K2110108), and 1901, lent by James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901). 15 An impression was lent by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) to an exhibition held at the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110202 or Graphic with a link to impression #K2110103). 16 Others were shown at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, and, lent by Howard Mansfield (1849-1938), in Philadelphia in 1902. 17 One was shown in an Art and Industrial Exhibition in Wolverhampton in 1902; C. Lewis Hind commented: 'how good it is suddenly to come upon thirty etchings by Mr. Whistler, some of the Thames and Venice pieces, and other little masterpieces, so small yet so sufficient'. 18

Then, after Whistler's death, two impressions were shown at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904. Mansfield lent his impression to the Whistler Memorial exhibition held in Boston in 1904, the Royal Collection lent to the London Memorial in 1905 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110111), and another impression was shown at the Memorial show in Paris in that year. 19


15: Glasgow 1888 (cat. no. 2552-22); Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 241).

16: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 161).

17: Philadelphia 1902 (cat. no. 947 [181]).

18: C. L[ewis] H[ind], 'Art at Wolverhampton', The Academy and Literature, 19 July 1902.

19: New York 1904a (cat. nos. 183 a, b); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 142); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 181).


For a Venetian subject, this was not priced particularly high by Whistler at first. He sold two impressions of the '1st state' on 28 August 1882 to the print dealer, Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832), for £6.6.0 each, and one on 12 September 1882 to the Royal Collection (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110111). It was 1902 before the next sale recorded, when he sold one to Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) on 24 December for £12.12.0. 20

20: GUW #13643, #13072, #13040.

Most sales were of course made through the publishers, Messrs Dowdeswell and Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892). Messrs Dowdeswell gave a set to the British Museum in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110217). Thibaudeau sold a set through Gustave Lauser (b. ca 1841) to H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, who sold it to Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110107). Other dealers also distributed the etchings. Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought the second state from F. Keppel & Co. in 1887 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110202) and the first state from Obach & Co. in 1905 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110103).
At auction, at Christie’s, 27 November 1888 (lot 180) 'The Rialto' failed to make its reserve, and an impression sold from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) at Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 276) was bought by 'White, G.' for only £ 2.12.0.
Early collectors included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110209); Alfred Beurdeley (1847-1919) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110203); George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110204) and Bernard Buchanan MacGeorge (1845?-1924) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2110108).