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Whistler & His Followers, 15/May/2004

From: Linda  Zapczynski
Category: Exhibitions
Date: 21 May 2004


American Attitude Whistler & His Followers

The Detroit Institute Of Arts

The many faces of James McNeill Whistler literally amaze, in this show of multifaceted art by the son of Whistler's mother, a.k.a. "Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1".

""Arrangement" is recognized as one of the most famous American paintings, though Whistler didn't paint it in the United States. He was born in Massachusetts, and left at age 21 , to live in Paris and London.

The portraits begin the exhibit, including a somber self-portrait in the Whistler palette of grey, and a full-length portrait of a "dandy" Whistler by William Merritt Chase, which, Whistler felt, was unflattering.

Chase and other artists, including John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Thomas Eakins, Frederic Remington,Henry Ossawa Tanner and others, balance out the show, demonstrating the clear influence of Whistler on his contemporaries, though most had, in fact, made derogatory comments about his work. Thirteen of the 62 paintings in the show are by Whistler.

Whistler is a master of light. While the faces are a bit stiff, and the solid backgrounds are translucently flat, the fabrics radiate with unearthly glows, as in "Symphony in White, No. 1". It isn't the vacant face we see, it's the glistening white gown, the elegant drapery in the background, the flowered carpet, and the tactile wolf rug under her feet.

The landscapes are even more haunting. His mastery of tonalism peaks in "Nocturne: the Solent", a mysterious sea scape, misty in soft blues.

An interesting take is Whistler's period of Asian influence; porcelain, screens, and kimonos fill the canvases. The figures are American, though the settings are of the Far East.

The most controversial piece finishes up the show, "Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket", a mixture of impressionism and a foreshadowing of rebellious expressionism. As many a great artist has done, Whistler defied convention in his work, and stirred the creative juices and society itself, from "The White Girl" to "Nocturne".


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