James McNeill Whistler: Breaking All the Rules: This American Expatriate Excelled as a Painter, Printmaker, Etcher, Lithographer, and Gallery Designer-All the While Doing It His Way

USA TODAY, March 2004 | Go to article overview

James McNeill Whistler: Breaking All the Rules: This American Expatriate Excelled as a Painter, Printmaker, Etcher, Lithographer, and Gallery Designer-All the While Doing It His Way


JAMES MCNEILL WHISTLER was as renowned for his radically spare, avant-garde exhibition designs and flamboyant, self-promotional personality as for his artwork. His abrasive and colorful personal style had a profound impact on European and American art. He was the first to declare "Art for Art's Sake," giving his paintings simple names such as "Symphony in White," in the hope that the public would view the entire composition rather than the image the artist suggested by referencing a title.

Marking the centenary of his death is the exhibition "Mr. Whistler's Galleries: Avant-Garde in Victorian London," which re-creates "Arrangement in White and Yellow," and "Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Grey," two of Whistler's most famous and influential installations. Both were controversial and radically innovative as they challenged long-standing assumptions about the presentation of art. They featured identically framed canvases, hung widely apart, on plain, lightly colored walls--in moderately sized but elegantly appointed rooms--at a time when exhibitions routinely displayed pieces from floor to ceiling with no space between frames.

Whistler's "Arrangement in White and Yellow" opened in February, 1883, at the Fine Art Society in London, showcasing 51 of his etchings, most of which had been completed in Venice in 1879-80. Another landmark exhibit, "Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Grey," opened in May, 1884, at Dowdeswells' Gallery in London and juxtaposed one life-size portrait of a female model with 66 smaller works. Subjects included scenes of Chelsea (Whistler's neighborhood in London), the Cornish coast, nocturnes set in both London and Amsterdam, and a series of watercolor drawings depicting female models in Whistler's studio.

Whistler was born in 1834 in Lowell, Mass., studied art in Paris from 1855-59, and spent most of the rest of his life in London. He never allied himself with any particular school or style, stubbornly setting himself apart from his contemporaries. As a student, Whistler was strongly influenced by 17th-century Spanish and Dutch art, though he would not visit Amsterdam until 1863. His earliest important oil paintings evidence the realism of Gustave Courbet, featuring the commonplace subjects and vigorous brushwork modeled after the older artist's work. One of the most successful of these is the frigid December scene "The Thames in Ice," (1860). It emphasizes the brooding hulk of a flat-bottomed collier brig used to haul coal, fish, and other heavy goods to London.

Whistler's style changed dramatically in the 1860s. Influenced by Greek sculpture, Asian porcelain, and Japanese prints, he cast aside the idea that the success of a piece of art could be measured by its accuracy as a representation, or the effectiveness with which it told a story or suggested a moral. Instead, he became convinced that an object of oat was best understood as an autonomous creation, to be valued only for its success in organizing color and line into a formally satisfying--and therefore beautiful--whole. Abandoning the idea that paintings should create the illusion of pictorial depth, he developed the flatter, more purely decorative style that he is best known for. This shift is evident in transitional works such as "Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony" (1864-70), but was not complete until the early 1870s, when Whistler began to paint the moody night scenes and restrained portraits that made him famous.

Whistler formally had rejected Courbet's vision of Realism and set out to rebuild his art from scratch. This move toward what was later termed "Aestheticism" led to his greatest creative successes. Aestheticism greatly simplified compositions, reduced portraits to single figures, and employed a limited range of colors. The perfect subject for this severe style was, of course, the fiercely puritanical "Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother," produced in 1871. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

James McNeill Whistler: Breaking All the Rules: This American Expatriate Excelled as a Painter, Printmaker, Etcher, Lithographer, and Gallery Designer-All the While Doing It His Way
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.