Visions of Venice: Etchings by James McNeill Whistler from the Collection of Ambassador C. Boyden Gray

June 18, 2021 - September 12, 2021

A drawing of a house on a canal in Venice

In 1879 American artist James McNeill Whistler was commissioned by the Fine Art Society, a commercial gallery in London, to produce twelve etchings of Venice over a three-month period. Finding a seemingly endless source of subject matter, the artist stayed in the city for fourteen months, creating fifty-one etchings, one hundred pastels, and numerous paintings. This exhibition showcases thirty of Whistler’s etchings of Venice on loan from the private collection of Ambassador C. Boyden Gray. Presented in two sections — Whistler’s “First Venice Set” published in 1880, and his “Second Venice Set” published in 1886 — the installation explores some of the artist’s most picturesque and atmospheric views of what Whistler called, “a marvellous City — the Sapphire of the Seas!” In addition to views of Venice suspended between sea and sky, Whistler depicted sites unknown to the average tourist, such as back alleyways, obscure canals, and working-class neighborhoods, that challenged the expectations of nineteenth-century viewers. Through his use of varied lines, compelling compositional motifs, and creative printing techniques, Whistler reveals his unique vision of Venice, the timeless beauty of which still captivates us today.

Visions of Venice, organized by Dana Cowen, Sheldon Peck Curator for European and American Art before 1950, has been made possible by generous support from the Ackland’s Director’s Circle.


Public Programs

Curator’s Conversation: Introduction to Visions of Venice
Friday, July 9, 3:30 p.m. | Virtual

Join Dana Cowen, Sheldon Peck Curator of European and American Art through 1850, for an in-depth look at Visions of Venice.

Family & Friends Sunday: Whistler’s World
Sunday, July 25, 2021, 2-5 p.m. | Virtual and/or In Person

Visit us virtually or find art activity kits to enjoy with your friends or family group in the galleries. This month, enjoy art-inspired activities inspired by Whistler’s etchings in Visions of Venice including a virtual visit to the Whistler-designed Peacock Room at the Freer Art Gallery (registration limited and required) and scratch-art activity based on Whistler’s etching.

Art & Lit: Visions of Venice in Art & Literature
Early September date TBA | Virtual with In-Person Components
$19 (Includes copy of Invisible Cities and shipping)

Join us in reading (or rereading!) Italo Calvino’s 1972 classic novel Invisible Cities, which features a fictional Marco Polo describing fascinating vignettes of his travels to an aged Kublai Khan. After you’ve read it, spend time exploring James McNeill Whistler’s captivating 1879 etchings of Venice, on view June 18-September 12 in the Ackland’s newest exhibition Visions of Venice. As the exhibition comes to a close, join us virtually for one of two lively art and literature discussions with the Ackland’s Director of Education and Interpretation Carolyn Allmendinger and UNC Professor Emerita of Art History Mary Pardo, where we’ll discuss the resonances between the novel and artworks.

Presented in partnership with Carolina Public Humanities.

Image credit: James McNeill Whistler, American, active in England and France, 1834-1903, The Palaces (detail), 1879-1880, etching, frame: 17 15/16 x 21 7/8 x 1 ¼ in. (45.6 x 55.6 x 3.2 cm). Collection of Ambassador C.Boyden Gray, L2021.21.28.