Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano 

An artwork image of a woman

Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano brings to life the Venetian glass revival of the late nineteenth century and the artistic experimentation the city inspired for visiting artists. It is the first comprehensive examination of American tourism, artmaking, and art collecting in Venice, revealing the glass furnaces and their new creative boom as a vibrant facet of the city’s allure.

Description

Though the Venetian island of Murano has been a leading center of glass-making since the middle ages, today’s thriving industry stems from a burst in production between 1860 and 1915. In this era, Murano glassmakers began specializing in delicate and complex hand-blown vessels, dazzling the world with brilliant colors and virtuoso sculptural flourishes. This glass revival coincided with a surge in Venice’s popularity as a destination for tourists, leading to frequent depictions of Italian glassmakers and glass objects by artists from abroad. American painters and their patrons visited the glass furnaces, and many collected ornate goblets and vases decorated with flowers, dragons, and sea creatures. Venetian glass vessels, and also glass mosaics, quickly became more than souvenirs—these were esteemed as museum-quality works of fine art.

Moreover, the inventions of Murano’s master glassmakers established Venice as a center for artistic experimentation. Sojourns in Venice were turning points for John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, and scores of artists who followed in their footsteps, often referencing the glass industry in their works. Featuring more than 140 objects, this exhibition presents a choice selection of glass vessels in conversation with paintings, watercolors, and prints by the many talented American artists who found inspiration in Venice. This juxtaposition reveals the impact of Italian glass on American art, literature, design theory, and science education, as well as ideas at the time about gender, labor, and class relations.

In addition to works by Sargent and Whistler, the exhibition features paintings and prints by Frank Duveneck, Thomas Moran, William Merritt Chase, Maurice Prendergast, Maxfield Parrish, Louise Cox, and Ellen Day Hale. These are featured alongside rarely seen Venetian glass mosaic portraits and glass cups, vases, and urns by the leading glassmakers of Murano, including members of the legendary Seguso, Barovier, and Moretti families. Remarkable works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection join loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and dozens of other distinguished public and private collections.

For Sargent, Whistler, and many of their patrons, Venetian glassware was irresistibly beautiful, and collecting these exquisite vessels expressed respect for both history and innovation. By recreating their transatlantic journey—from the furnaces of Murano to American parlors and museums—this exhibition and catalogue will bring to life the creative energy that beckoned nineteenth-century tourists and artists to Venice. This spirit spawned the renowned Venice Biennale contemporary art festival, and it lives on in Venetian glassmakers’ continued commitment to excellence.

The exhibition is organized by Crawford Alexander Mann III, curator of prints and drawings at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

Visiting Information

October 8, 2021 May 8, 2022
Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m.
Free Admission

Tour Schedule

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Washington, DC
October 8, 2021 May 8, 2022
Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Fort Worth, TX
June 25, 2022 September 11, 2022
Mystic Seaport Museum
Mystic, CT
October 15, 2022 February 27, 2023

Publications

A cover of the exhibition catalogue for Sargent, Whistler & Venetian Glass
Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano
Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano presents a broad exploration of American engagement with Venice’s art world in the late nineteenth century. During this time, Americans in Venice not only encountered a floating city of palaces, museums, and churches, but also countless shop windows filled with dazzling specimens of brightly colored glass. This lavishly illustrated book examines exquisitely crafted glass pieces alongside paintings, watercolors, and prints of the same era by American artists who found inspiration in Venice, including Frank Duveneck, Ellen Day Hale, Thomas Moran, Maria Oakey Dewing, Robert Frederick Blum, Charles Caryl Coleman, Louise Cox, Maurice Prendergast, and Maxfield Parrish, in addition to John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler.

Installation Images

Videos

Credit

Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Generous support has been provided by The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Embassy of Italy in Washington DC, Chris G. Harris, the Raymond J. and Margaret Horowitz Endowment, Janet and William Ellery James, William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund, Maureen and Gene Kim, The Lunder Foundation—Peter and Paula Lunder Family, Lucy S. Rhame, Holly and Nick Ruffin, the Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Awards, Rick and Lucille Spagnuolo, and Myra and Harold Weiss.

The accompanying catalogue is supported in part by Jane Joel Knox.

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

In-kind support has been provided by Christie’s.

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SAAM Stories

Detail of painting of woman with dark hair holding a blue object
10/05/2021
An interview with the curator of Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano
A photograph of Anne Showalter in front of Superhighway.
Anne Showalter
Digital Interpretation Specialist
A photograph of Alex Man by Libby Weiler.
Alex Mann
Former Curator (Prints and Drawings)
Diorama showing a miniaturized corner of a room with small paintings and glass
How John Gellatly’s eclectic collection of fine and decorative arts took over his New York home and six rooms in the Heckscher Building
A photograph of a woman.
Katie Hondorf
Public Affairs Specialist
Two glass goblets side by side. The left has serpents on the stem, the right is a floral design.
Take a closer look at four fabulous glasses to inspire a virtual celebratory toast to 2022
A photograph of a woman.
Katie Hondorf
Public Affairs Specialist
A Byzantine necklace
Uncovering the secrets of one of SAAM’s treasures
A photograph of a woman standing in an art gallery with busts behind her.
Ariel O'Connor
Objects Conservator
Sarah Montonchaikul
Conservator pulling a print from the sink of water
SAAM conservator Kate Maynor explains the delicate process of washing paper
Kate Maynor
Roman glass bowl
Go behind-the-scenes with conservators who make a fascinating discovery about a rarely seen Roman glass bowl
Katya Zinsli

Online Gallery

Artists

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Alice Pike Barney
born Cincinnati, OH 1857-died Los Angeles, CA 1931

Born in Cincinnati, lived in various places, including Paris, Washington, D.C., and Hollywood. Artist, playwright, patron of the arts.

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Robert Frederick Blum
born Cincinnati, OH 1857-died New York City 1903

A native of Cincinnati, Blum studied drawing with Frank Duveneck while still a youth. At the age of sixteen, he was first exposed to Japanese art and crafts, an interest that remained with him throughout his life.

Arthur B. Carles
born Philadelphia, PA 1882-died Chestnut Hill, PA 1952
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William Merritt Chase
born Williamsburg, IN 1849-died New York City 1916

Painter and teacher.

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Kenyon Cox
born Warren, OH 1856-died New York City 1919

Born in Ohio, studied in Paris, lived mostly in New York City. Painter who wrote extensively about art.

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Louise Cox
American, 1865 - 1945

Born in San Francisco, lived in New York City. Painter who specialized in children's portraits, won several prizes.

Maria Oakey Dewing
born New York City 1845-died New York City 1927

Maria Oakey Dewing and her husband, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, spent the summers from 1885 to 1905 at an artists' colony in Cornish, New Hampshire. There they cultivated the large garden that Maria studied and painted.

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Frank Duveneck
born Covington, KY 1848-died Cincinnati, OH 1919

Kentucky-born painter and teacher. He studied at the Munich Academy and developed a loose, broad painting style in the manner of Hals and Rembrandt.

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Walter Gay
born Hingham, MA 1856-died Breau, France 1937

An expatriate who left Boston for Brittany, Gay began his career with genre scenes from eighteenth-century life, shifting in 1884 to the kind of realistic peasant picture seen in Novembre Étaples [SAAM, 1977.111].

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Ellen Day Hale
born Worcester, MA 1855-died Brookline, MA 1940

Born February 11, 1855, in Worcester, Mass., the daughter of the Rev. Edward Everett Hale. In Boston, 1873–78. Studied with William Rimmer, 1873, and with William Morris Hunt and Helen Knowlton, 1874–77. In Philadelphia, 1878-79.

Hermann Herzog
born Bremen, Germany 1831-died Philadelphia, PA 1932
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William Henry Holmes
born Cadiz, OH 1846-died Royal Oak, MI 1933

Holmes led a remarkably varied life as an anthropologist, archaeologist, artist, draftsman, explorer, geologist, government official, and museum director. While studying under Theodor Kaufmann in 1871 in Washington, D.C., he met Fielding B.

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Winslow Homer
born Boston, MA 1836-died Prout's Neck, ME 1910

Painter and graphic artist. Homer's illustrations of the Civil War for Harper's Weekly are singular and outstanding examples of wartime reporting.

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Bertha E. Jaques
born Covington, OH 1863-died Chicago IL 1941

Jaques was already a respected printmaker when she began making cyanotype photograms of wildflowers. An active member of the Wild Flower Preservation Society, she created over a thousand of these botanical images.

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Thomas Moran
born Bolton, England 1837-died Santa Barbara, CA 1926

Landscape painter. Influenced by J.M.W. Turner, Moran is best remembered for his idealized views of the American West.

Walter L. Palmer
born Albany, NY 1854-died Albany, NY 1932
Maxfield Parrish
born Philadelphia, PA 1870-died Plainfield, NH 1966

Maxfield Parrish was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in his native city of Philadelphia. He also studied with the renowned illustrator Howard Pyle, who was an important influence on his work.

Maurice Prendergast
born St. John's, Newfoundland 1858-died New York City 1924

Born in Newfoundland, studied and lived in Boston and Paris, also visited Venice.

Mabel Pugh
born Morrisville, NC 1891-died Raleigh, NC 1986
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John Rogers
born Salem, MA 1829-died New Canaan, CT 1904

Born in Massachusetts, later lived in Chicago and New York City.

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Ernest David Roth
born Stuttgart, Germany 1879-died Cambridge, NY 1964
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John Singer Sargent
born Florence, Italy 1856-died London, England 1925

Painter. Sargent traveled in a circle of socially prominent people and is known for his loosely painted portraits done in a style reminiscent of Edgar Degas and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Francis Hopkinson Smith
born Baltimore, MD 1838-died New York City 1915
Julius LeBlanc Stewart
born Philadelphia, PA 1855-died Paris, France 1919
Herman A. Webster
born New York City 1878-died France 1970
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James McNeill Whistler
born Lowell, MA 1834-died London, England 1903

James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in the industrial town of Lowell, Massachusetts. Inducted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he accumulated so many demerits that he became a sore trial to the then-commandant Major Robert E. Lee.

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Irving R. Wiles
born Utica, NY 1861-died Peconic, NY 1948

In his heyday—the first quarter of the twentieth century—Irving Wiles was one of the most successful portrait painters in the United States.