James McNeill Whistler first
traveled to Venice in 1879-80, 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 pastels 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, was most impressed with this particular print: "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."
FishingBoat was included in A Set of Twenty-Six Etchings, published by Messrs Dowdeswell and Thibaudeau in 1886, and printed by the artist:
The cover sheet for this edition mentions:THIRTY 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...
Glasgow identifies 39 known impressions of this etching in all states, and they note that "The fourth state was probably printed between September and October 1886 and recorded as delivered on 26 October 1886." This first delivery comprised ten impressions, of which three others are on the same paper. ****
* The Glasgow Whistler Etchings Project has published the most exacting catalogue raisonné to date, and their six states of Fishing Boat differ markedly from Kennedy's, and in certain cases reverse the order.
** See the NGA site, which has inventoried known watermarks on Whistler etchings: http://nga.gov.au/whistler/details/Strasburg.cfm
*** According to the Glasgow website commenting the fourth state impessions, "Several were trimmed but were signed on the tab by someone other than Whistler..." http://etchings.arts.gla.ac.uk/catalogue/search/ts_display/index.php?catno=K208&rs=&q=fishing+boat&xml=pri