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The City as a Work of Art: Venetian Vistas at The Hyde

The City as a Work of Art: Venetian Vistas at The Hyde March 12, 2024
“Canal,” 1912. Maurice B. Prendergast Munson Museum of Art, Utica, NY.
“Canal,” 1912. Maurice B. Prendergast Munson Museum of Art, Utica, NY.

“Venice,” said William Merritt Chase, “is the most artistic place that I ever was in.”

Since the eighteenth century, countless American and European artists have felt likewise, and the responses to the “Most Serene Republic” from a score of those artists – representative, perhaps, of thousands more – comprise the current exhibition at The Hyde Collection, “Venetian Vistas.”

The bright air, the exchange of light and water, the distinctive architecture of palaces, churches and public squares – not to mention an atmosphere of ruin and decay – give Venice “a romantic charm that has held a continuous allure for artists over the centuries,” says Bryn Schokmel, The Hyde curator who organized the exhibition.

“Venice Façade,” an 1878 oil painting by Chase, is among the works in the exhibition, as is an etching of the Grand Canal by Frank Duveneck, the artist and teacher with whom Chase first visited Venice in 1877.

The painting by Chase is on loan from the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville Maine; the Duveneck etching belongs to The Hyde; so too, do eight other pieces in the show, collected by the Charlotte and Louis Hyde and members of the Pruyn family.

As Schokmel notes, artists were not the only people drawn to Venice in the 19th century. Ordinary travelers, at least those with means, were as well. Venice, writes one historian “was the Las Vegas of its day.”

For young English noblemen, cultivating a sensibility through foreign travel, Venice was a mandatory stop on the Grand Tour. And between bouts of debauchery, they snapped up townscapes by Canaletto and Guardi (both represented in Venetian Vistas) to decorate the ancestral piles back home.

The “milords” were followed by American expatriates, “children of the new empire of commerce,” as Leon Edel the biographer of one of those expatriates, Henry James, once put it.

Charlotte Hyde, her sisters and their husbands were among the wealthy Americans who regularly travelled to Venice.

The exhibition contains scrapbooks created by Charlotte Hyde, the first in 1891, before she was married, and another in 1931. A similar scrapbook, compiled by Charlotte Hyde’s sister, Mary Pruyn Hoopes, in 1907, is also included.

A tasteful etching in the show, “Gondolas,” by Charlotte Hyde’s brother-in-law, Thomas Cunningham, suggests that the Cunninghams were also attracted to Venice.

So, too, for that matter, were Charlotte Hyde’s parents, Samuel and Eliza Pruyn, who owned a large 1888 etching by Thomas Moran titled “The Gates of Venice” that hung in their Glens Falls home. It remained within the family until 2008, when it was donated to The Hyde.

According to Bryn Schokmel, the Venetian-inspired works collected by the Hydes exhibited here were purchased through galleries in New York rather in Venice itself.

Among those was “Grand Canal, Venice,” originally attributed to the English painter J.M.W. Turner.

Turner captured “the perpetual newness of the infinite and the beautiful” awaiting the discerning traveler in Venice, wrote John Ruskin, whose influential multi-volume essay, “The Stones of Venice,” was owned by Louis Hyde.

James M. Whistler, who famously sued Ruskin for libel after reading a dismissive review of his work, is also represented in the exhibition, by two etchings, one donated to the Albany Institute of Art by NY Governor Averill Harriman and the other owned by Mary Hoopes’ daughter, Polly Beeman.

Both were produced by Whistler during the winter of 1879-1880, commissioned by a London gallery to help defray the litigious artist’s legal fees.

Unlike Turner, who, according to Ruskin, was moved to plumb Venice’s “fathomless depths of crystal mystery,” Whistler was drawn to the quotidian aspects of contemporary Venice.

“As we enter the late 19th and 20th centuries, we see fewer artists attracted to the picturesque and increasing numbers interested in daily life,” said Schokmel.

Highlights of the show include an energetic, Ash Can School-take on the city, Maurice Prendergast’s 1912 watercolor, “Canal” and the colorful “View of the Lagoon” by the French painter Felix Zeim, lent by a Lake George collector.

Today, Venice is sometimes dismissed as “Veniceland” an attraction where turnstiles limit the number of daily visitors granted entry.

“Venetian Vistas” shows us the Venice of Henry James: the setting for two of his most famous novels, “The Aspern Papers” and “The Wings of the Dove.”

“You desire to embrace it, to caress it, to possess it,”  the novelist wrote of the city.

Venetian Vistas will be on view at The Hyde Collection through April 21, 2024. The museum is open Thursday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. For more information, visit

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