Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

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Nocturne: Blue and Gold – St Mark's, Venice

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Nocturne in Brown and Gold: St. Mark's, Venice' (1886, Society of British Artists). 1
  • 'St Marks in the moonlight' (1891, Whistler). 2
  • 'Nocturne, Blue and Gold – St. Mark's, Venice' (1892, Goupil).
  • 'Nocturne bleu et or; – Saint-Marc, Venise' (1892, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts). 3
  • 'Nocturne, St. Mark's' and 'Nocturne, Blue and Gold, St. Mark's' (1905, ISSPG). 4
  • 'Nocturne: Blue and Gold – St Mark's, Venice' (1980, YMSM). 5

'Nocturne: Blue and Gold – St Mark's, Venice' is the preferred title. The alteration of title between 1886 and 1892 probably reflects the fact that it had been cleaned.

Description


                    Nocturne: Blue and Gold – St Mark's, Venice, National Museum of Wales
Nocturne: Blue and Gold – St Mark's, Venice, National Museum of Wales

The façade of a church, at night, in horizontal format. There is scaffolding on the building.

Site

The best known of Venetian subjects, this is the view from in front of the famous café, Florian's, looking diagonally across the Piazza, north-east towards San Marco (partially covered in scaffolding) and the Piazzetta dei Leoni. Grieve points out that the recently installed gas lighting illuminates the gold on the façade. 6

John Ruskin (1819-1900) and William Morris (1834-1896) had established a Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings, and there was considerable press coverage of the controversy about the extent and efficiency of the long-running restorations to St Marks. 7

While Whistler was in Venice, the north corner of the façade of San Marco was covered with the scaffolding from the controversial conservation programme. This is seen both in the oil and in an etching, The Piazzetta [218], which was included in the first Venice set of etchings published by The Fine Art Society. Ernest George Brown (1851-1915) commented 'I think the time is just ripe for the Venice etchings as there has been a devil of a row here about St Marks and any drawings of Venice we have had have sold immediately.' 8

On showing him the painting in Whistler's studio in 1887, Whistler asked Booth Pearsall 'if Ruskin would admit he could draw architecture.' 9

The American artist Otto Henry Bacher (1856-1909) stated that Whistler's 'very few paintings' made in Venice were done 'mostly from memory.' 10 However, the underlying structure of the cathedral and scaffolding is complex and may well have required making studies on site, even though none have survived.

Notes:

1: Winter Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1886 (cat. no. 331).

2: Whistler to J. C. Bancroft, [5 December 1891], GUW #07603.

3: Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champ-de-Mars, Paris, 1892 (cat. no. 1071).

4: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 2) (cat. no. 2) as 'Nocturne, St. Mark's', and, in deluxe edition, 'Nocturne, Blue and Gold, St. Mark's'.

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 213).

6: Grieve 2000 [more] , pp. 171-73; MacDonald 2001 [more] , pp. 32-33.

7: Dorment, Richard, and Margaret F. MacDonald, James McNeill Whistler, Tate Gallery, London, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, and National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1994-1995 (cat. no. 59). Grieve, 2000, op. cit., p. 172; MacDonald 2001, op. cit., p. 32.

8: Brown to Whistler, 31 January 1880, GUW #01107.

9: Quoted by Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 2, pp. 28, 63.

10: Bacher 1908 [more] , p. 55.

Last updated: 16th December 2020 by Margaret