THE TRAGHETTO, NO. 2

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
THE TRAGHETTO, NO. 2
etching and drypoint
1879

An original hand-signed James Abbott McNeill Whistler etching and drypoint print.

1879

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

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

A superb, richly inked impression of Kennedy’s third state of six, Glasgow’s sixth state of nine, showing a warm plate tone throughout, printed after the back of the hat brim of the man seated to the left of the table was completed, but prior to the appearance of the diagonal scratch crossing the bottom of the trunk of the nearest tree. From the edition originally announced as 100 (of which there are only 60 known to have been printed).  One of the plates from the series Venice, Whistler. Twelve Etchings, commonly referred to as the “First Venice Set,” published by the Fine Art Society, London, 1880. 

Catalog: Kennedy 191 iii/vi; Glasgow 233 vi/ix; Mansfield 188; Grolier Club 158; Wedmore 156.

9 7/16 x 12 inches

Whistler’s Venetian etchings are one of the greatest achievements of his art. He went to Venice in late 1879, but he had been planning a visit since 1876. His cataclysmic financial state had delayed the trip, however, until a commission, and a check from the Fine Art Society in September 1879 enabled him to go with the purpose of making 12 etchings.

In Venice Whistler continued to explore the themes and variations which had preoccupied him for years, demonstrating the consistency of his formal concerns. While his subjects are attractive and capture the feeling of the city, he was not interested in subject as an end in itself. Upon close examination it appears that his interest lay in the more purely abstract elements of the composition, and that the subject played an increasingly incidental role. This was anticipated in the portrait “arrangements” of the 1870’s, and in the decoration for the “Peacock Room.” In his pamphlet Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room of 1877, Whistler maintained that the peacock motif was only a “means” of carrying out a formal arrangement in gold on blue and blue on gold.

Looked at in this context, the Venice etchings can be divided into groups, each of which explores a similar theme with formal variations, and can be seen as the logical outgrowth of Whistler’s early work in the medium.

Whistler continued to explore the decorative and spatial possibilities of figures in doorways which he had first explored in 1858. This idea was extended the following year to include a succession of doorways and courtyards. In Venice he used the magnificent arched doorways with their cast iron grillwork and mysterious inner spaces to great advantage, as well as the narrow covered passageways which link the calli and often open into canals.

Here Whistler depicts boatmen lounging at a table as they wait for foot passengers wishing to be carried west across the Grand Canal at the traghetto (ferry) station of Santi Apostoli. The site has been identified as the courtyard of the Ca’ da Mosto, close by the Rialto Bridge in the Cannaregio district of Venice.

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