Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Whistler and art for art's sake

Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea
James McNeil Whistler
Oil painting on wood
support: 502 x 608 mm frame: 685 x 825 x 45 mm

Bequeathed to the Tate Gallery, London by Miss Rachel and Miss Jean Alexander 1972

James McNeil Whistler is the artist of choice for the Fine Line Artists' Group Project in May
Art should be independent of all claptrap —should stand alone [...] and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism and the like (Whistler)
Here's some links to kick off with:
Judging by the extent of the resources at the Freer Gallery I think we might be leaning on Maggie to pay a visit to the Freer Gallery.
The expatriate American artist James McNeill Whistler was born in Massachusetts, studied art in Paris from 1855 to 1859, and spent most of the rest of his life in London. As an art student,Whistler was strongly influenced by seventeenth-century Dutch and Spanish art, and by the realism of Gustave Courbet (1819–1877).

Whistler first achieved critical and commercial success as an etcher, producing meticulously drawn prints of working-class life in rural France and London. His earliest important oil paintings evidence Courbet's influence, featuring the commonplace subjects and vigorous brushwork characteristic of the older artist's work.........

Whistler's art changed dramatically in the 1860s. Influenced by Greek sculpture, Asian porcelain, and Japanese prints, he rejected the idea that the success of an art object 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 art object was best understood as an autonomous creation to be valued only for the success with which it organized 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 for which he is best known...........(in the) early 1870s, when Whistler began to paint the moody night scenes and restrained portraits which made him famous. (Freer Gallery of Art)

I think that makes 4 artists out of 4 so far who've been influenced by the Japanese Prints which began to circulate in the late nineteenth century. Do you get the impression we're going to have to have a project about these too?

Exhibitions in which I've seen Whistler paintings include the 'Americans in Paris' exhibition at the National Gallery in February 2006 and the Turner, Whistler and Monet exhibition in the Grand Palais in Paris in October 2004 (on the left is the queue - it took us 35 minutes to reach the front of this). I remember being particularly struck by how many titles involved a colour.

Other resources I shall be using include:
  • the catalogue for the Turner, Whistler and Monet exhibition (Publisher: Tate Publishing (10 May 2004); ISBN-10: 1854375008; ISBN-13: 978-1854375001)
  • "Whistler's Venice" by Alastair Grieve - about his production of etchings, oils, pastels and drawings of the city of Venice. It contains much about his methods and techniques and is approach to being a topographical artist. (Published by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press ISBN 0-300-08449-8)
I don't know where studying Whistler will take me - but I'm thinking that it's likely to focus on his drawing in pastels and pencils, his focus on colour and his paintings of the Thames.

As`with our previous projects, please feel free to join in if you'd like to. Just leave a comment on one of the Whistler posts in this blog or those of Maggie Stiefvater, Nicole Caulfield or Wendy Prior if you'd like to be included in the roll call of participants.

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  1. I think I could get hooked on this one, Katherine. I know very little about Whistler, but I do find his nudes particularly appealing. I'd also be most excited if Fine Line Artists explored Japanese prints - I've already dipped my toe in there.

  2. I don't think I;ve seen his nudes Robyn but will look out for them on my travels rounds the links

    As ever, good to have you on board

  3. Great choice, Whistler! As we did in art school - go to the museums on 'painting day' and stand hopefully in the footprints of the artist who had painted the grand piece and try to figure it all out. I always felt (still do) as tho' I may be thinking some of his/her actual thoughts as problems and decisions were made and then the paint chosen and applied. Wonderful way to learn! Since babyhood we all WATCH and learn. We all did as they did, not as they said, right???? Helen Scott in North Carolina, USA

  4. Helen - as my particular interest is drawing I can of course visit exhibitions and draw. Which is what I did recently in the Hockney exhibition. Making a copy means I now a lot more about how Hockney draws - simply because the actual process of making a mark tells you a lot about it could be made - and how it can't.

    What we do in these projects is find the bit of the artist that attracts us most in terms of our own work - and then we try to understand how th chosen artist approached it and maybe we tend to push that bit in our own work. Or we try something out or new which might not have occurred to us before.

    Whatever - everybody finds something in the project of interest to them - and everybody has learned in the process. Some of have even completely revised our opinions of certain artists!!!


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