Whistler etching: THE RIVA, NO. 2

THE RIVA, NO. 2

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
THE RIVA, NO. 2
Etching
1879-80

An original hand-signed James Abbott McNeill Whistler Etching.

1879-80

Original etching and drypoint printed in dark umber ink on antique laid paper.

Hand-signed with the artist’s butterfly monogram and annotated “imp.” in pencil on a tab below the platemark lower left (indicating that the impression was printed by Whistler himself).

A richly printed impression of Kennedy’s second and final state, Glasgow’s state 1.c, of this extremely rare etching, with a warm plate tone throughout, printed after the addition of the diagonal lines across the boat landing at the lower right, from the edition of only 42.  One of the plates published in 1886 by Messrs. Dowdeswell and Thibaudeau, London, in the series A Set of Twenty-Six Etchings, also referred to as the “Second Venice Set”.

Catalog: Kennedy 206 ii/ii; Glasgow 230, state 1.c; Mansfield 203; Grolier Club 177; Wedmore 175.

8 1/4 x 12 inches

In 1877 Whistler exhibited a group of paintings at the Grosvenor Gallery, including “Nocturne in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket.” They were not well received. John Ruskin, perhaps the leading establishment critic of the period, was moved to write: “I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public face.” Whistler felt himself so insulted that he sued Ruskin for libel. The case came to court amidst much public amusement in November of 1878. Judgment was finally found in Whistler’s favor, but he was only awarded one farthing damages and had to pay the court costs. This forced him into bankruptcy.

His spirits at a very low ebb, Whistler managed to gain a commission for twelve etchings of Venice from London’s Fine Art Society. In September of 1879 he left England for Italy with Maud Franklin, who had replaced Jo Heffernan as his main model – and his mistress. He arrived in Venice in damp rainy weather which soon gave way to extreme cold. Far from being depressed Whistler was suddenly jubilant. The wet wintry light gave the canals, the buildings and the lagoon a special gleam and shine which seemed an extension, an amplification, of the atmosphere he knew so well on the Thames. The web of lines, the varied wiping of the ink tones with which he had been experimenting in London seemed suddenly to have found a logical and perfect compliment in the ornate tracery of the Venetian architecture, in the pattern of the masts of the anchored ships by San Giorgio, and in the gleam on the calm water. Over the course of fourteen months (according to the terms of his original commission he was to have stayed in Venice only three months) he created some fifty etchings which were to be perhaps the greatest achievement of his life.

For “The Riva, No. 2” Whistler looked down from his room at the Casa Jankowitz to etch one of the most animated of all his Venetian prints. Below him, on the Campo San Biagio, a group of idlers surrounds a seated man in a broad-brimmed hat. It is not entirely clear what he is doing, but the group recalls Whistler’s title page for Twelve Etchings from Nature (Kennedy 25), which depicted the artist himself at work amid a throng of fascinated children. Across the bridge, the Riva Ca’ di Dio stretches away in an elegant curve toward the most familiar part of the city, with the heavily pedimented façade of the Pieta and the domes of San Marco terminating the image.

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