Sunday, January 6, 2013

Duveneck & Whistler in Italy

In Florence, Duveneck found it hard to work, owing to his being so well known, in fact pursued, as would appear to have been the case from Pennell's remark in his book on Whistler, that he and Whistler used to run across Duveneck in little out-of-the-way cafes, where he was hiding from them. This lasted for two more years when Duveneck decided to disband his class, thinking it would be better for his group of really fine students to go back to Munich or Paris on account of the opportunity of seeing what was going on through exhibitions and the like.

In 1880 Duveneck became keenly interested in etching, but a visit to America soon interrupted this work. Returning to Venice after about a year, he produced, in 1883 and 1884, some twenty notable plates. Without his knowledge in 1881, Lady Collin Campbell had sent his three etchings of the "Riva Degli Schiavoni, Venice" to London, for the first exhibition of the "New Society of Painter-Etchers" at the Hanover Gallery. The story of how several members of that society suspected that they were the works of Whistler under a nom de plume, is well known, the facts having been put on record various times and Whistler's witty correspondence on the subject being included in "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies."
Riva Degli Schiavoni, Venice No. 1 by Frank Duveneck

Riva Degli Schiavoni, Venice No. 2 by Frank Duveneck

In this connection Seymour Haden later said that after seeing the etchings there was absolutely no doubt with him as to their originator, that he could not help but feel at once the difference of temperament between Whistler and Duveneck.

Duveneck's etchings of the "Riva degli Schiavoni" were made before Whistler made his; in fact Otto H. Bacher, one of the Duveneck Boys in Venice tells us in his book, "With Whistler in Venice," that Whistler saw these etchings as Bacher was helping Duveneck bite the plates, and that Whistler said with characteristic frankness: "Whistler must do the Riva also." Haden wrote to Duveneck at the time, "I assure you, your owrks are the admiration of all who come to our gallery. Pray do not stop your work in this direction; we shall all be much interested in seeing more of it and doing it all the honor we can."
The Riva, No. 1 by Whistler (at the Frick)
"The high vantage point of this scene suggests that Whistler took the view from a window in his lodgings on the Riva degli Schiavoni. To show the bustling activity below, the artist flattens the foreground space, while allowing the row of buildings to recede to the horizon. The domes and campanile of the basilica of San Marco appear just above the rooftops at the far right."

One year after the controversy, Duveneck showed in London another group of etchings which again attracted much interest, Haden testifying his appreciation by buying all that he could get. All of Duveneck's Italian etchings convey his sense of architectural richness and with that the simple pictorial bigness, complete in every way, that characterizes his other work. His plates are superbly conceived and masterly in their draughtsmanship. The plate of the "Rialto" is among those that best convey Duveneck's personal force of conception and touch. Many of his plates have unfortunately been destroyed or lost and few prints are in existence.

The Rialto by Frank Duveneck, 1883

In those Venetian days Duveneck used to see a good deal of Whistler; they were always friendly, but the two were too utterly unlike for the friendship to go beyond a certain point. An amusing little story relates to this time.

"Duveneck and DeCamp, who were printing one day, were sorely in need of paper. They asked Bacher to tell them where he got his beautiful handmade paper. Bacher revealed the secret to the two startled artists in a whisper. Doubtful whether he was merely joking, they nevertheless set out gamely for the market, where to their satisfaction they did find the exquisite paper which was used by a couple of women to wrap up butter. Whistler, who also heard about this, was not slow in laying in as much a stock of the paper as he could get." Of course!

* Text for this post is from Norbert Herrmann's book, "Frank Duveneck" . 1918
which is in its entirety at