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The Piazzetta

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 218
Date: 1879/1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 257 x 182 mm
Signed: two butterflies at lower left (1); replaced with new butterfly (2-final)
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'First Venice Set', 1880
No. of States: 9
Known impressions: 51
Catalogues: K.189; M.186; W.155
Impressions taken from this plate  (51)


Whistler began this plate in pure etching, and - with the exception of small details - he worked in etching as the plate developed. Drypoint was used to reinforce and alter shading within the clock-tower doorway and, possibly, to sketch in some paving stones, but other minor changes were bitten into the plate.
The condition of the earliest known impression of The Piazzetta (see ) gives a clue to Whistler's attitude toward working proofs. The print is unsigned and was torn in two, implying that it was discarded by the artist. Like a number of other unsigned impressions of early states of Venice states (see, for example, , , and ), this destroyed proof may have been discarded by Whistler and salvaged by another, in this case by Thomas Way (1837-1915), who sold the restored etching to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1905. While such early proofs are invaluable in understanding the progress of Whistler's work on his copper plates, he does not appear to have been interested in making public the earliest stages of his creative process with the exception of the first and second proofs. At a later stage in his career he realised the economic value of selling unique early proofs to collectors, and began to save and inscribe the early proofs accordingly.


Whistler recorded nine impressions of The Piazzetta delivered to the Fine Art Society, London, on 16 February, sixteen on 6 April, and seven on 25 August 1881; a second list adds one on 15 February 1884, three on 13 January 1887, nine on 25 June 1887; finally he delivered nineteen impressions on 2 May 1889. 9 The plate was then cancelled.

9: Whistler to FAS, 7 January 1882, GUW #01137; 25 June 1887, #01191; FAS receipt, 2 May 1889, #01221.

Over fifty impressions have been located. Most were printed in black ink, sometimes a warm black ink. The first state was printed on off-white laid paper removed from a book (); the second possibly on buff wove (). By the fourth state Whistler was using a variety of papers: buff laid and ivory laid paper with foolscap watermark (, ), as well as thick Asian wove paper (, ). The fairly large print-run of the fifth state may date from April 1881 - at least one signature is of that date (). Most of these were printed in black ink on 'antique' (pre-1800) laid paper (, . , ), the latter with a countermark, and including some with watermarks, such as a Strasbourg Lily () and Arms of Amsterdam ().
The sixth state appears to date from 1887, and the butterfly signatures confirm this date. One impression is in black ink and one in dark brown on cream laid paper (, ). Most were printed in dark brown ink on papers including cream 'antique' laid paper with 'GR' watermark (), ivory laid paper with Strasbourg Lily watermark () and ivory laid Japan ().
The last state, delivered in 1889, was presented in an even wider range of colours: brown ink on cream and ivory laid western paper (, ); dark brown ink on ivory Asian laid, ivory laid and off-white laid with Strasbourg Lily watermark (, , ); and black ink on ivory laid, light green laid with a crown watermark, and dark ivory Japanese or 'Japanned' paper (, , ).
Two cancelled impressions were carefully printed in dark brown ink on off-white laid paper, one with a Strasbourg Lily watermark and the other - the more thoroughly cancelled one - with a partial 'HARRIS & McMURDO' watermark (, ).