Nocturne

Large ship with three masts on the water, with buildings in the background

James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)
Nocturne, 1879/80
Etching and drypoint, brownish-black ink on cream laid paper
8 × 11 3/4 in. (20.3 × 29.8 cm)
Published in the First Venice Set (“Venice: Twelve Etchings,” 1880)
Ninth state of nine
Signed in graphite, in tab at lower left: Whistler’s butterfly monogram
Gertrude Kosovsky Collection
© The Frick Collection

 

This atmospheric scene, looking across the Bacino di San Marco toward the Giudecca Canal, concentrates on the basin's reflective surface and the darkening sky. The land, buildings, and floating crafts—a nearly abstract progression of peaks and dips—separate water from air. The famous edifice of San Giorgio Maggiore at right and the large sailing boat at left are represented in shadowy silhouette by vertical lines. By manipulating the ink on the plate, Whistler conveys the encroaching twilight.