James Abbott McNeill Whistler
From the series, Twelve Etchings (First Venice Set) 1881
North America, American
8 in. x 11 11/16 in. (20.32 cm x 29.69 cm)
Medium and Support:
Etching and drypoint on laid paper
Gift of Jean K. Weil in memory of Adolph "Bucks" Weil, Jr.
During the etching revival at the end of the nineteenth century, some of Whistler’s contemporaries used plate tone (that is, ink which was left on the plate for printing to impart tone) with such enthusiasm that a controversy arose between printmakers who sought painterly effects and those who felt that etching should depend more on pure line: those in the latter camp sometimes disdainfully referred to plate tone as “sauce hollandaise.” Whistler, however, felt free to experiment with the inking of his plates, making dramatic changes in the time of day, focal point, and mood of his landscapes as he changed the wiping of the plate. Like Rembrandt, he also continued to make adjustments to the plate itself after the initial work was finished; "Nocture," for instance, exists in five states.
The veils of ink used for this impression of “Nocturne” were designed to unify this composition of buildings as seen across the basin of San Marco in Venice. The composition is focused on the far bank, with the church of Santa Maria della Salute providing the most recognizable profile. Whistler purposely left the etched lines defining the foreground vague; he wiped the plate to give a sense of depth and atmosphere to the water and sky.
See "Dürer, Rembrandt, and Beyond from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Weil, Jr.," exh. cat. (Montgomery: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 1994,) 14, and "Fleeting Impressions: Prints by James McNeill Whistler,” exh. cat., (Montgmery, AL: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 2006), 49.