The Fish Shop, Venice

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 226
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 131 x 223 mm
Signed: butterfly at left and upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 9
Known impressions: 18
Catalogues: K.218; M.215; W.188
Impressions taken from this plate  (18)


The Fish Shop, Venice was not published.


It was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society, London in 1883. In the catalogue designed by Whistler for the show he added short excerpts from earlier reviews that provided ironical contrasts or complements to the prints on show. In this case, Whistler quoted both Thomas Taylor (1817-1880) and the Glasgow Herald's earlier reviews:
'"Those who feel painfully the absence in these works of any feeling for the past glories of Venice." 'Arry in the Spectator.
"Whistler is eminently vulgar."—Glasgow Herald. 9

This phrase was cut from an earlier Glasgow Herald review that did not actually refer to this etching, and was not, in fact, entirely uncomplimentary about his etchings. It was extracted from a review of recent etchings by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910), Charles Jacque (1813-1894), Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), and others, exhibited by C. Silva White at his West George Street Galleries in Glasgow in 1881:

9: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 6).

''The Millet series ... illustrate the charm of pathos with which the great Frenchman invests his patient and hopeless toilers. The simple directness of the art evades whatever is vulgar in work or sentiment ... ... Beside Millet Whistler is eminently vulgar; the clever etcher is always surprising the public. Whistler is master of dry-point, and he divides his reputation with his art. Miss Leyland's portrait must astonish with its fantastic traceries. "A Shipbuilder's Yard" and "Old Houses" equally illustrate the art, the work, and the eccentricity of the artist'. 10

10: 'Exhibition of Etchings', Glasgow Herald, 1 June 1881.

The extracts quoted by Whistler in 1883 were repeated in a couple of the press reviews, one commenting 'the Catalogue - it is impayable'. 11 Otherwise The Fish Shop, Venice was largely ignored, except for one critic who waxed ecstatic, not about the etching, but about the delights of Venice:

11: Liverpool Mercury, 21 February 1883 and 'An Arrangement in White and Yellow', [February 1883], unidentified press-cutting, (GUL PC25/33, 26.

'Venice scenes and Venice subjects, Venice shipping, and Venice shops, Venice men and women, from gondoliers to bead-stringers, Venice from the Riva degli Schiavoni to the Rialto, from the Salute to Murano, from San Biagio to the Long Lagoon, from San Giorgio to the Piazzetta, from the Islands to the Grand Canal, we have the "glorious City in the sea," set down in black and white - set down, too, by one who certainly can claim to originality of treatment. In fine, Venice as she is in odd corners, Venice from new points of view, palaces and bridges, Venice trades and traders, shops and stalls, the glass blowers of Murano, the wheelwright, the fish shop, with the frutti di mare, Tunny and Red Mullet, Sardellé and Lissa, sturgeon and eels, fruit stalls, with the fruits of the land, grapes and green figs, cool water melons, and gourds fit to serve Cinderella for a chariot, and gherkins green and fresh, or yellow and salt, wool carders and beggars, gondolas and bragezzos; Venice as she is, not the Venice of the scene painters'. 12

12: 'An Arrangement in White and Yellow', ibid.

Actually none of these 'fruits of the sea' are visible in the shop, and it is the title that explains that this is a fish shop and bar. The same etching was also shown in Wunderlich's reprise of the F.A.S. exhibition in New York in 1883 and at two shows in their galleries in 1903 - in fact they included three different states in one of these shows. 13 Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought an impression of the first state from the 1903 Wunderlich show (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180102) and the other major collector of Whistler's etchings at that time, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938), had lent an impression to the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180504). 14

After Whistler's death no less than four different states were shown in the show organised by the Grolier Club in New York in 1904. Finally Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) lent one impression to the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in London in 1905. 15

13: New York 1903b (cat. nos. 150 a,b,c). See REFERERENCES : EXHIBITIONS.

14: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 168).

15: New York 1904a (cat. nos. 190a,b,c,d); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 188).


Whistler recorded selling impressions to two London print dealers. He sold two on 28 August 1882 to Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) for £4.4.0 each and, following their order on 4 February 1887, a 'touched proof' on 28 April 1887 to Messrs Dowdeswell for double the price - £8.8.0. 16 This was sold to Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180402). and after his death, it was sold at Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 283), described as a 'touched proof, partly drawn in' and bought by another print dealer, Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for £3.7.6. It was acquired by Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) from whom it went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1917 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180402).

16: GUW #13643; #00888, #13020.

Other early collectors included George Washington Vanderbilt (1862-1914) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180102), Jules Gerbeau (d. 1906) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180506), and Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180601).
Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought an impression of the first state from H. Wunderlich & Co. in 1903 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180102) and later states from Doll & Richards Inc., New York, in 1904 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180502) and Thomas Way (1837-1915) in London in 1905 (Graphic with a link to impression #K2180602); all of these were bequeathed to the Freer Gallery of Art in 1917.