James McNeill Whistler first
traveled to Venice in 1879-80, and fell in love with the city, and
stayed for fourteen months. He completed about fifty etchings,
seeking to capture Venice’s ineffable beauty in a new way.
In 1880 he wrote: "I
have learned to know a Venice in Venice that others never seem to have
perceived . . . " His etchings depict the quiet streets and
backwaters beyond the Grand Canal, avoiding the longstanding tradition
of vedute, the majestic views
of the city’s main sites. As one scholar noted, Whistler sought
to capture "the essence of the crumbling city: its texture, its light,
its distinctive enclosed calli and piazze, and its unique ‘floating’ quality."
Whistler even carried his pastel and etching materials with him as he explored the city, drawing from life, "sur le motif".
The print was first exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London in 1883. A London newspaper, the Standard, comparing it with Nocturne: Furnace, stated: "His 'Furnace Nocturne' is among the best, and is very skilful. His 'Fishing Boat' is as fine in line as is the other in light and shade."
Glasgow identifies 39 known impressions of this etching in all states, but they cite only three impressions of the fifth state. **
This print was included in A Set of Twenty-Six Etchings, published by Messrs Dowdeswell and Thibaudeau in 1886, and probably printed by the artist:
The cover sheet for this edition mentions:
SETS ONLY WILL BE PRINTED EVERY IMPRESSION WILL BEAR MR. WHISTLER'S
AUTOGRAPH, AND WILL BE MOUNTED ON BOARD, AND ISSUED IN A PORTFOLIO
SPECIALLY DESIGNED BY THE ETCHER...
It may be assumed that our
impression is an early impression, before the final sixth state of the
edition; as remarked by Glasgow, "There were not many impressions of
the fifth state; however, they were almost certainly among the batch
delivered on 26 October 1886."
* See the NGA site, which has inventoried known watermarks on Whistler etchings: http://nga.gov.au/whistler/details/Strasburg.cfm
** See http://etchings.arts.gla.ac.uk/catalogue/etchings/etching/?filename=K2080311