About This Artwork

James McNeill Whistler
American, 1834-1903

Nocturne: Palaces, 1879/80

Etching and drypoint in black, with selective wiping of plate tone, on ivory laid paper
297 x 200 mm (image, trimmed within plate mark); 307 x 201 mm (sheet, with signature tab)

Clarence Buckingham Collection, 1938.1910

In developing this image, Whistler exploited plate tone (ink left on the unetched surface of the copper plate) to an extraordinary degree. Etched and incised drypoint lines were used as a framework for painterly inking and wiping of the plate, which allowed for endlessly varied impressions. In fact, each example of Nocturne: Palaces is different, conveying distinctive interpretations of light, darkness, and atmosphere.

The impressions on display represent different states (second and eleventh); ink colors (black and brownish black); and wiping (inky at top and bottom and more nuanced overall plate tone). The earlier, more dramatic impression emphasizes architectural details and the velvety darkness of sky and water, while in the later example building facades are cloaked in mist and the dampness of a Venetian night is palpable.

— Exhibition label, Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions, June 20 – September 27, 2015, Galleries 124–127.

This work is featured in the online catalogue Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions, which accompanied an Art Institute exhibition of the same title. The catalogue explores the artistic collaboration between James McNeill Whistler and Theodore Roussel and offers a new perspective on the artists, their circle, and resulting innovations in nineteenth-century art.

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