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Moonlight Fete in Venice / Thomas Moran


Completed during either his 1886 or 1890 sojourn to Venice, this pen and ink study was executed so quickly and effortlessly that in some sections the artist’s pen never left the paper. There is one continuous stroke of the pen for the architecture, another for the gondolas, leaving additional marks to be made only for the sky and water. Although many of the field sketches Thomas Moran created in Venice are quick line drawings, they formed the basis for over sixty-five oil paintings depicting the city of canals, rivaling his portrayal of any other subject in oils, including the American West.1

Venice was a popular subject among collectors in the United States throughout the nineteenth century. The city’s historic architecture and its charming gondolas skimming across the canals suggested a preindustrial era, a pleasant dream of life at a slower pace, and a gentler age.2 The paintings and etchings of Venice by James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) from 1879 to 1881 presented new pictorial approaches to the city and played an important role in maintaining its popularity.3 Whistler’s scenes of Venice do not depict standard views of stately architecture; rather, the paintings show moonlit views (which he called nocturnes), and his etchings depict hidden courtyards, back alleys, and the day-to-day life of Venetians, all presented from intriguing viewpoints.4 Although a sketch, Moonlight Fete in Venice suggests some of Whistler’s informality, as Moran portrays gondolas scattered haphazardly along the quay, discharging their celebrants on this moonlit night.

—Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research, 2021

1 Hirshler, “‘Gondola Days,’” 120, 124 in Stebbins et al; Townsend, “‘A Lasting Impression,’” 29.
2 Anderson et al., Thomas Moran, 122–24; Hirshler, “‘Gondola Days,’” 122–24 in Stebbins et al; Simpson, “Venice, Whistler, and the American Others,” 35–45 in Merrill et al.
3 Simpson, “Venice, Whistler, and the American Others,” 32–35, in Merrill et al.
4 Whistler’s etchings of the city known as “The Venice Set” were exhibited in New York City and Philadelphia in 1881. See “Sets and Series” in MacDonald, Grischka, Hausberg, and Meacock, James McNeill Whistler: The Etchings, a Catalogue Raisonné, online at the University of Glasgow.

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Moonlight Fete in Venice; Moonlight fete in Venice (recto); Moonlight fete in Venice (verso); Moonlight Fete in Venice (verso)
Thomas Moran (Artist)
late 19th century
Hudson River School
ink on paper
Landscape; double-sided 0.133- 0.137 mm Machine-made, wove, smooth calendared paper, light cream in color.
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
1376.587; 17072
Not On View

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