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Views of 19th-Century Venice through the Eyes of Whistler

As an American, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, (1834-1903) lived an expatriate life in Europe. He is considered one of the 19th century’s most significant artists. Although he earned some approval and studied art in Paris, he decided to make his home in London. The artist’s only excursion to Venice came at the end of a challenging period. Whistler was having financial and political issues. Whistler sued the art critic John Ruskin for libel in 1878; although he won the court case, he was awarded only a small amount of money for damages. Because of his circumstances he took an assignment given to him by London’s Fine Art Society to create a series of etchings of Venice. It took him some time to warm up to the city. He spent many more months than the three which were allotted to him in Venice, the city of water. In Venice, Whistler made over 50 etchings and almost 100 pastels, as well as a few paintings in oil. Venice offered Whistler great opportunities. He took to the lesser known places while other artists at the time, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, were attracted to the more celebrated Venetian sites. Venice was in a sense a therapeutic place for Whistler. Alhough some of his troubles followed him he was in a new environment. The new environment proved to be a beneficial for him especially in an artistic sense. The works he created here are special and distinctive in comparison to his earlier and later works.

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