Ships at anchor in a lagoon is the focus of this image. Smaller boats are tied to the quay in the foreground and along the horizon line is a cityscape, leading to a large church at the left, with an impressive facade, dome and bell tower behind. A large ship is moored between the viewer and the church. Much of the foreground is occupied by water without boats, leaving the elements of the composition largely in the middle distance.
The subject of the "Nocturne" from the "First Venice Set" is seen here in a daytime view. The Palladian church of San Giorgio Maggiore sits on an island in the Venetian lagoon opposite the Doges Palace, making it one of the principal attractions in central Venice. Whistler usually shied away from depicting the major monuments of Venice, and when he did he often showed the site from an unusual vantage point; in this instance he restricted himself to allowing the reversal typical in etching to suffice in providing a different view of the famous church.
This is a nighttime view of a city on water. Along the horizon can be seen numerous buildings and ships. At center left is a three-masted ship at anchor; along the right side are buildings, incuding domes and a tall tower. Throughout the image, there is an importance given to reflections and the nocturnal setting.
Whistler frequently employed plate tone to evoke the rich humidity of Venice's climate. This image showing a large ship at anchor in the mouth of the Grand Canal conveys the palpable atmosphere of nighttime in Venice.
Prior to Whistler's adoption of "artistic wiping" of the plates, such use of plate tone would have been the mark of someone not proficient in printing techniques. Whistler varied the inking of this plate, in particular, such that impressions are essentially monoprints. However, use of plate tone became more broadly embraced and the Venice prints became among the most sought after of his etchings.