British and American Artists in Venice

Study Day

John Bunney ‘Facade of St Marks, Venice’

Lecture 1 The Discovery of Venice

Although Canaletto had successfully painted and sold pictures of Venice in England, Venice was put on the British artistic map by Turner who made three brief visits to the city in 1819, 1833 and 1840. Despite only staying for a short time, Turner produced a huge number of oils and watercolours of Venice, usually painted from memory and from his sketchbooks which he created while walking round Venice. His Venetian paintings shown in London were highly successful and he was followed by artists such as Samuel Prout, Richard Parkes Bonington and Clarkson Stanfield.

John Ruskin first visited Venice in 1845 returning to write his guide book ‘The Stones of Venice’ which became a best seller and attracted many British and American tourists to the city. He returned many times and some of the drama of the breakdown of his marriage to Effie Gray was enacted in Venice. We have the letters from Effie to her parents which describe life in mid-19th century Venice and the beginnings of her marital problems. We examine Ruskin’s photographs and watercolours of Venice which are wonderfully delicate and beautifully observed. Ruskin encouraged other Pre-Raphaelite artists to visit Venice such as George Price Boyce and John Inchbold.

John Ruskin ‘South Side of St Marks’ Detail 1851

Lecture 2 The Butterfly on the Lagoon 1879-1880

James McNeil Whistler very foolishly took John Ruskin to court over an article that Ruskin had written about one of his paintings. While Whistler won the case, he was awarded no damages and had to pay the court costs. As a result he was declared bankrupt and in 1879 he arrived in Venice with a commission from the Fine Art Society in Bond Street to stay a couple of months and produce 12 etchings. In the event he stayed for over a year and produced etchings, pastels and oils. His adventures and practical jokes in Venice were recorded by his American students, but despite the fun, Whistler produced many superb works in what was certainly the most creative year of his life. Three exhibitions back in London restored his reputation and finances. We have the correspondence between Whistler and his mother and between the artist and his London dealers who continued to finance his stay while seriously doubting that he would ever return !

Whistler ‘Nocturne in Blue and Silver’

Lecture 3 The Palazzo Barbaro Circle – Sargent in Venice

John Singer Sargent first visited Venice as a young boy returning as an art student and painted some intense oils of Venetian life in 1880-1882.  Escaping from portrait painting in London he returned in the 1890’s to produce a series of sparkling watercolours while staying with his cousins at the Palazzo Barbaro, where Henry James, Robert Browning and Walter Sickert mingled with British and American expatriates. Sargent’s watercolours of Venice are dazzling images of light and movement and in this lecture we are able to reconstruct the life of British, French and American expats in Venice

Sargent ‘On the steps of the Salute’

In 1895 Walter Sickert made the first of a number of visits to Venice, painting sombre but sensitive oils. An unusual painter, her captured the darker side of the city including its courtesans and working people.  Sickert’s work influenced contemporary painters such as Bernard Dunstan, Diana Armfield, and Ken Howard  who continue the tradition of British artists in Venice to this day.

Bernard Dunstan ‘Sta Maria Formosa, Dusk’