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San Biagio

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 237
Date: 1880
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 212 x 308 mm
Signed: butterfly at left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Second Venice Set', 1886
No. of States: 17
Known impressions: 68
Catalogues: K.197; M.194; W.163
Impressions taken from this plate  (68)


This was published by Messrs Dowdeswell and Thibaudeau with the 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. 9

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


San Biagio was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London in 1883. In the exhibition catalogue, written by Whistler, Whistler ironically twinned it with an excerpt from an earlier review in the Observer: 'So far removed from any accepted canons of art as to be beyond the understanding of an ordinary mortal.' 10 However, it was much admired in 1883 by the critic of the Saturday Review:

10: London FAS 1883 (cat. no. 4).

'Again, in "San Biagio", we find a strikingly broad and true feeling and expression of atmosphere in the sky space seen through the arch; and we find a masterly treatment of the texture and transparency of the water, a treatment indeed which in etching is little short of surprising.' 11
The same show was then seen at H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1883. Wunderlich's showed impressions several times in later years, in 1898 - when one was sold to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) () - and twice in 1903. F. Keppel & Co. also exhibited impressions in New York in 1902 and 1904, as did Obach & Co. in London in 1904. 12

12: New York 1898 (cat. no. 142). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

A small and brief exhibition of the 'Second Venice Set' at the Hogarth Club in 1887 inspired one art critic to enthusiasm:
'We should like to draw attention next to "San Biagio," "Furnace Nocturne," and the "Garden." These are all seen for the first time in their perfected condition, and they belong to the set which Messrs Dowdeswell are now publishing. ... The "San Biagio" would be generally accounted to have the greatest variety of subject. It represents a quarter of Venice in which elegance battles bravely with squalor.' 13
One of two etchings owned by Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) was exhibited in the exhibition organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 either ( or ). Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) also lent an impression to the same exhibition ( or ). 14 James Cox-Cox (ca 1849- d.1901) lent one to the Glasgow International of 1901. 15

Impressions were shown in the Memorial Exhibitions after Whistler's death, including three exhibited at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904, two in the Copley Society exhibition in Boston in 1904, lent by Lathrop and Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) (); and single impressions in Paris and London (the latter lent from the Royal Collection) in 1905 (). 16

14: Chicago 1900 (cat. nos. 143, 143a).

15: Glasgow 1901 (cat. no. 238).

16: New York 1904a (cat. nos. 165, a,b,c); Boston 1904 (cat. nos. 129, 130); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 163).


The earliest impressions were printed in Venice, and one or two were snapped up at that time. One for instance was acquired from Whistler by Otto Henry Bacher (1856-1909) (). George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) bought one soon after Whistler's return (). On 8 August 1882 Whistler sold an impression to the London print dealer Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832) for £5.5.0. 17 He also sold an impression to the Royal Collection on 12 September 1882 for £6.6.0 (); and much later this impression was sold through Obach & Co., in 1906, to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919). 18 On 23 June 1884 Whistler sold one to the Fine Art Society, London, again for £6.6.0. 19

Most sales were done through Messrs Dowdeswell and Alphonse Wyatt Thibaudeau (ca 1840- d.1892) after publication in 1886. Dowdeswell's gave a set including an impression of San Biagio to the British Museum in 1887 (). Thibaudeau sold a set for £52.10.0 through Gustave Lauser (b. ca 1841) to H. Wunderlich & Co. in May 1888, and it was bought by Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) in 1890 ().

17: GUW #12990.

18: 12 September 1882, GUW #13072.

19: GUW #01175.

Whistler's most important American patron Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought one impression from Keppel & Co. in 1887 (), another from the collection of Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) through Wunderlich's in 1898 (); one from Thomas Way (1837-1915) in 1905 (); one from the Royal Collection bought, as mentioned above, in 1906 (); and one of the first state from E. Gottschalk (dates unknown) in 1908 ().
At auction, prices were variable. At Christie’s, London, 27 November 1888 (lot 162) one impression failed to make its reserve price. On the other hand, one was sold from the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) at Sotheby's, 3 March 1892 (lot 258) to Edmund F. Deprez (1851-1915) for a very good price, £7.10.0. A complete set owned by Mrs Edward Fisher of Abbotsbury, Newton Abbot. sold at Christie’s, 13-14 July 1897 (lot 316) to Colnaghi's for £82.0.0.
Towards the end of his life Whistler sold one impression on 24 December 1902 to the London print dealer Robert Dunthorne (b. ca 1851) for £15.15.0 and another on 8 June 1903 for £12.12.0. 20 These were high prices, perhaps reflecting the dealer's awareness that Whistler was failing.

20: GUW #13040, #13042.

Early American collectors included Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) (); Bryan Lathrop (1844-1916) (); Henry Harper Benedict (1844-1935) (); Walter Stanton Brewster (1872-1954) (, ); Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) ( ); Charles Deering (1852-1927) (); Harry Brisbane Dick (1855-1916) (, ); Margaret Selkirk Watson Parker (1867-1936) (); Louisine Waldron Havemeyer (1855-1929) (); Harris G. Whittemore (d. ca 1937) ().