England at Last Honours Whistler's Art

By Julius, Muriel | Contemporary Review, January 1995 | Go to article overview

England at Last Honours Whistler's Art


Julius, Muriel, Contemporary Review


When James Abbot McNeill Whistler died in London in 1903, still embittered against the English establishment, he left instructions that his works should never go on permanent display in England. Thus they can be seen today in Scotland, at the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow.

Apart from some memorial exhibitions in 1905, no full retrospective exhibition of Whistler's works has been held until the present sumptuous showing at the Tate Gallery, London. It brings us fine works that we shall never see together again; not only the 'Nocturnes', but 'The White Girls' and his 'Arrangements' - the portraits of Thomas Carlyle, of the artist's mother and the petulant Miss Cecily Alexander, Whistler's salute to Velasquez. There are also his etchings, pastels and drawings, many as delicate as the butterfly by which he signed himself.

This exhibition can be seen from 6th February, 1995 at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, and surprisingly at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Surprisingly because the Freer Gallery, part of the Smithsonian complex in that city, owns and displays permanently part of the most extensive holding of this artist's works to be found anywhere.

The trouble with Whistler is that his personality - perfect Hollywood fodder one would have thought - is so colourful it overshadows his oeuvre. Tall, graceful and fastidiously dandyfied in his long cream coat, dark trousers and black patent shoes, he was an arrogant, witty volcano, ever ready to sail into battle to defend his cause.

He was born in 1834 in the industrial town of Lowell, Massachusetts, a detail he often chose to ignore. His boyhood and early teens were spent in Russia where his father was a civil engineer. Back in America he was nominated for the West Point Military Academy. Profoundly indifferent to the curriculum, he was dismissed at last for 'deficiency in chemistry'. Hoping to mollify his distressed mother, he travelled to Washington and, with superb effrontery, called on Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, later the Confederate President, and requested him either to reinstate him at West Point or find him a job. He was sent to the Coastal Survey to work as a cartographer. There he learned the art of etching that was to be so beneficial to him later on.

Whistler's artistic gift had already been nurtured in Russia. Now he read Murger's book, Scenes de la Vie de Boheme and fancied himself as a carefree artist in Paris. With funds from his family he sailed to France in 1855 never to return. He enrolled in the largest studio, that of Monsieur Gleyre. He learnt how to prepare one's palette, how to paint from memory and not in front of the motif and to draw from the nude. The artist and novelist George du Maurier was a fellow student. Years later he depicted Whistler as Joe Sibley, the idle apprentice in his novel Trilby (1894). Whistler formed close friendships with Courbet, Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros, more casual ones with Manet and Degas. Like them he was seduced by the newly discovered Japanese prints, their art and decoration. Their disciplines continued throughout his life.

That Whistler was included among progressive artistic circles in Paris is irrefutable, since Fantin placed him in the centre of his painting 'Hommage a Delacroix' beside Manet and Baudelaire (Musee d'Orsay). But in 1859 when Whistler submitted the painting of his half-sister, Mrs. Haden and her daughter, 'At the Piano' to the Salon - a restrained bourgeois scene - it was rejected. When he went to London, the painting was accepted by the Royal Academy and purchased by an Academician. After the hostility to his work in France, London was welcoming. He decided to stay, found rooms near Chelsea, and his long love affair with the River Thames began.

The Thames then was of commercial, social and moral significance, associated not only with industry, but also with poverty, murder and prostitution. Nathanial Hawthorne wrote of it 'hiding a million of unclean secrets within its breast . …

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

England at Last Honours Whistler's Art
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.

    Author Advanced search

    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.