Whistler’s many pastels and etchings of Venice depict it as a living, working contemporary city. The present work is one of only three known existing oils he made there. Painted from the vantage point of the Café Florian on the south side of St. Mark’s Square, the huge basilica—described by Mark Twain in 1880 as like a “vast, warty bug taking a meditative walk”—looms over the piazza. Only the essentials of the Byzantine architecture are represented, silhouetted against the deep blue of the night sky. The flecks of white represent the newly installed gas lamps in the square. This was the first of six paintings of Venice acquired by the Davies sisters.
Oil on canvas, 17 1/2 x 23 1/2 in.
Purchased by Gwendoline Davies, 1912
National Museum of Wales; Miss Gwendoline E. Davies Bequest, 1951 (NMWA 210)
Courtesy American Federation of Arts