The present pastel dates from 1879-1880, a tumultuous period in Whistler's life following the conclusion of his notorious libel trial with Ruskin in November 1878. Despite Whistler’s victory, he was awarded a mere farthing in damages, and forced to pay court fees. Whistler’s debts were insurmountable, and he declared bankruptcy, having to auction off his personal effects at White House. In 1879 Whistler was commissioned by The Fine Art Society to create twelve etchings, and he seized the opportunity to escape London and left immediately for Venice with his model and mistress, Maud Franklin. This move instigated a period of great artistic productivity, and in 1880 he executed fifty etchings and over ninety pastels in Venice, from which this study derives. Whistler began increasingly to work in pastel at this time due to the increased mobility it offered whilst moving around Venice to sketch. John Walker comments that the style Whistler developed in Venice was ‘totally different from that of his earlier work – more abstract and dependent on a minimum of calligraphic lines’ (J. Walker, James McNeill Whistler, New York, 1987, p. 86.). This increasingly minimalist approach is evident here, as Whistler uses a scarcity of line to convey an atmospheric scene, instantly evocative of the Venice canals.