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The Little Lagoon

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 216
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 226 x 152 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 58
Catalogues: K.186; M.183; W.152
Impressions taken from this plate  (58)


It was published as 'The Little Lagoon', No. 8 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). 10 Whistler printed 60 impressions 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 January 1887 Whistler printed 48 impressions of the 'First Venice Set' at 5.5.0 per dozen. This fulfilled the order of the F.A.S. from 1886. 11 In July 1887 he printed 96 impressions for the 'First Venice Set' at 5.5.0 per dozen. 12

10: GUW #01153.

11: GUW #01185.

12: A. Homeyer Dunn (fl. 1883-1901) to Whistler, 2 May 1889, GUW #01221.


The Little Lagoon was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society, London in 1880. 13 The Daily News dismissed it with the comment, 'In the "Little Venice" and "The Little Lagoon" Mr. Whistler has attempted to to convey impressions by lines far too few for his purpose.' 14 The St James' Gazette said that the earlier Thames etchings 'contained as striking an expression of a momentary effect or of a prevailing genius loci as we see in the best of these plates' but thought that technically the earlier etchings were superior. 15

In 1881 The Little Lagoon was exhibited with other etchings from the 'First Venice Set' on both sides of the Atlantic: at the Nationgalerie, Berlin (), and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and, lent by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), at the Union League Club in New York in 1881 (). 16 It may also have been shown by the New York Etching Club in 1882 as 'A Lagoon, Venice' although that could have been another view of the lagoon. 17

It was shown again at the F.A.S. in 1883 and 1892, and in the reprise of the 1883 show at H. Wunderlich & Co., New York. For the 1883 F.A.S. catalogue entry Whistler quoted a short excerpt from a passage by Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921), 'Well, little new came of it, in etching; nothing new that was beautiful.' 18 Assuming Whistler was emphasizing the contrast between his work and the reviewer's opinion, then this quotation must have been chosen to complement an etching that did show something new in etching, and 'was beautiful' in Whistler's opinion. It was hung in a place of honour at the F.A.S in 1883:

13: London FAS 1880 (cat. no. 8).

14: 'Mr. Whistler's Venice Etchings', Daily News (London), 2 December 1880.

15: 'Mr Whistler's Venice', St James' Gazette, London, 9 December 1880.

16: Berlin 1881 (cat. no. 711). New York 1881 (cat. nos. 156-167); see REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

17: .

18: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 26).

'Three pieces, "Islands," "The Little Lagoon" and "Nocturne Shipping" over the mantelpiece, certainly honoured in position, are instances of a few telling strokes. All is sky and sea, save a streak of shipping or distant objects on the horizon.' 19
Print dealers also exhibited it with other etchings from the set, at H. Wunderlich & Co. in 1898, when one was bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) () and in 1903, and at Obach & Co. in London in 1903. An impression, lent by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916), was shown in the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (). 20 Another was shown at an international show in Glasgow in 1901, lent by James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901) from his large collection of Venetian etchings. 21

After Whistler's death, impressions were shown in 1904 at the Royal Scottish Academy and in the Whistler Memorial Exhibitions, at the Grolier Club in New York and in the Copley Society Memorial show in Boston, and the following year in Paris and London, in the latter case, lent from the Royal Collection. 22

20: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 133).

21: Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 215).

22: New York 1904a (cat. no. 153); Paris Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 354); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 152).


Most impressions were sold through the publishers, the Fine Art Society. In addition Whistler noted one sold on 23 June 1884 to the F.A.S. for 5.5.0 - presumably this was a special proof. 23 In 1892 the F.A.S. raised the price they were asking for The Little Lagoon to 6.6.0. 24

Whistler also sold an impression - possibly a proof - on 28 February 1882 to the London print dealer Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) for 5.5.0. 25 In 1883 Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) sold 'Die kleine Lagune in Venedig' to the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin (). 26

Whistler's signature was a valued commodity, but it was usually written on the tab at the bottom of a trimmed impression and was a little fragile, as is shown by a letter from Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932):

23: GUW #01175.

24: E.G. Brown to Whistler, 21 October 1892, GUW #01257.

25: GUW #13643.

26: Inventory books, Kupferstichkabinett Berlin.

'We send addressed to you by this mail an etching of the "Little Lagoon". It is owned by a gentleman who has a number of Mr. Whistler's etchings. He has lost the signature and would be gratified if Mr. Whistler would put his name on the face of it, or on a piece of paper added to the bottom of the print. Will you kindly ask Mr. Whistler to sign it?' 27
It is not known if Whistler complied!

Two impressions were sold from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) at Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lots 237, 238). One was bought by Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915) for 2.5.0 and the other by 'Harrington' - probably Henry Nazeby Harrington (1862-1937) - for 1.18.0.
Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) bought an impression as part of the 'First Venice Set' from H. Wunderlich & Co., New York in 1890 (). In 1897 Whistler sold four impressions to Wunderlich's for 5.5.0 each (including and ). 28 Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) had bought an impression from F. Keppel & Co. in 1894 (), and he followed this with an early impression - originally owned by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) - from Wunderlich's in 1898 (), and yet another from Thomas Way (1837-1915) in 1905 ().

28: Wunderlich's to Whistler, June/August 1897 (net price), GUW #07288; stock no. a 27045.

Other American collectors included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), by 1881 (); John Pomeroy Townsend (1832-1898) (); Walter Steuben Carter (1824-1904) (); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) by 1900 (); John Henry Wrenn (1841-1911) (); Clarence Buckingham (1855-1913) (); Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) () and Marie Conrad Lehr (1883-1921), who may also have bought from Wunderlich's ().