the prints of James McNeill Whistler
25 March – 10 July 2005
The National Gallery of Australia presents An artist abroad: the prints of James McNeill Whistler, an exhibition that showcases a selection of 100 prints drawn from the Gallery’s collection.
James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) was born in the United States of America, and became a significant figure in the 19th-century art worlds of France and England as a painter and printmaker. This exhibition follows Whistler’s legacy as a printmaker, demonstrated through a series of remarkable etchings and later lithographs, which he made from the 1850s to the turn of the century.
During his career as an American artist abroad, Whistler drew inspiration from European historical traditions from the 17th century onwards. He participated in emerging 19th-century movements, such as French Realism and the Venetian Masters. Other influences were the art of China and Japan, in particular the Japanese tradition of the ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
The influence of the French Realist tradition, along with Rembrandt and the Dutch school, are apparent in the so-called French set of 1858, a series of 12 beautiful etchings of figure studies and village scenes – this was a remarkable testimony to a talented young artist. As with all of his prints, Whistler made a careful selection of papers for his impressions, and the French set was printed on chine collé, a laid oriental paper.
In May 1860 Whistler moved to London. Capturing the essence of little-known aspects of the English capital he produced an evocative series of 16 etchings known as the Thames set of 1861, which consist of several etchings that adopt a flatter space, silhouetting and cropping of subject matter, similar to Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
Faced with bankruptcy in mid-life, Whistler set off for Venice to work on a commission making etchings of the city whose palaces and seascapes were made famous by the English artist JMW Turner, a painter Whistler had admired since he was a child. This first set of etchings, known as the Venice set, along with a later Venice series, are notable for their beautiful painterly and poetic qualities – sublime visions rather than depictions of the everyday.
Jane Kinsman, exhibition curator and Senior Curator, International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books, says ‘Whistler’s legacy as a printmaker is demonstrated through his series of remarkable etchings and later lithographs, which he made from the 1850s to the turn of the century. His style and subject matter became inspirational for many important artists of his day, including Claude Monet and Camille Pissaro.’
The exhibition coincides with the publication of An artist abroad: the prints of James McNeill Whistler, published by the National Gallery of Australia, which details and illustrates the artist’s printed work.