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The Palaces

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 223
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching, drypoint and open bite
Size: 252 x 358 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left (4-5); removed (6)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 6
Known impressions: 56
Catalogues: K.187; M.184; W.153
Impressions taken from this plate  (56)


architecture, building, canal, doorway, ferry, gondola, palace, window.


There are only small variations in the title, as follows:

'The Palaces' (1880, F.A.S.). 1
'Palaces' (1887/1888, Whistler). 2
'The Palaces' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 3
'Palaces. Venice // The Palaces' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 4

'The Palaces' is the original title and is generally accepted.

1: F.A.S., [1 December 1880], GUW #12667.

2: List, [1887/1888], GUW #13233.

3: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 153).

4: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.


Two palaces are seen across the Grand Canal. In the centre is a large Gothic palace with two arched doorways opening onto the canal; above the doorway at right is a row of round-arched windows, and above these, a balcony with tall windows in an elaborately carved framework. Adjoining this, at the right is a smaller palace, similar in style, with a single doorway, above which are two balconies, each with tall, decorated windows. There are figures in the two doorways on the right. At far left is a traghetto (ferry), in front of a square bordered with buildings. At far right is an iron gateway, beyond which are tall buildings. By the traghetto and in front of both palaces are several gondolas.


Comparative image
The Palazzo Giustinian Pesaro (left) and the Ca' Sagredo (right), Grand Canal, Venice, 2006 and 2012.
Comparative image
Photographs © M.F. MacDonald and G. Petri, Whistler Etchings Project.
The Gothic Palazzo (or Ca') Sagredo at left and the smaller Palazzo Giustinian Pesaro to right, seen from the Ponte de Pescaria on the Riva de l'Ogio, San Polo, looking across the Grand Canal, in the city of Venice, Italy. This view, drawn accurately on the copper plate, is reversed, as usual, in the print.
Comparative image
The Ponte de Pescaria, from which Whistler drew The Palaces, 2012.
Photograph © G. Petri, Whistler Etchings Project.
The site is near the Rialto bridge, where Whistler etched The Rialto [199]. It was a favourite hunting ground for Whistler, where he drew several pastels including The Palace; white and pink [m0758], showing the Ca' de Mosto, also on the Grand Canal. 5 The Pennells commented:

5: Grieve 2000, pp. 64-65.

'Some say that Whistler first took rooms at the top of the Palazzo Rezzonico, the palace now owned by Mr Barrett Browning. Mr Ralph Curtis, who lived in Venice, thinks that "for a time Whistler had, as many did, one of the big rooms on the second floor of the Rezzonico as a studio." His only etching in the immediate neighbourhood is The Palaces made, not from an upper window, but from a traghetto, or the end of a near calle.' 6

6: Pennell 1908, I, p. 265.


This is an elaborate architectural subject, and one familiar with visitors to Venice, being a major palace on the Grand Canal. It was etched on Whistler's largest copper plate, and clearly intended to be an important feature of the 'First Venice Set'. Other palaces etched by Whistler include The Doorway [193], The Balcony [202], Nocturne: Palaces [200], Palaces, Brussels [338] and Gold House, Brussels [336].