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The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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11th December 2003 - Whistler in Washington

In Washington DC currently there are two exhibitions running which relate to Whistler.

The first, Mr Whistler's Galleries: Avant-garde in Victorian London, is open until 4 April 2004, and focuses upon two of Whistler's most famous and influential gallery installations, "Arrangement in White and Yellow" and "Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Grey". The Freer Gallery website remarks that

"Both installations were controversial and radically innovative because they challenged long-standing assumptions about the display of art. Featuring identically framed artworks that were hung widely apart on plain, lightly colored walls in moderately sized but elegantly appointed rooms at a time when exhibitions routinely displayed artwork from floor to ceiling with no space between frames, Whistler's installations paved the way for the spare exhibitions that have become the norm."

Across the National Mall in the National Museum of American History, it is Whistler's father and uncle who are featured in the displays. In a show called West Point in the Making of America, 1802-1918, both William Gibbs McNeill (Whistler's uncle) and George Washington Whistler (Whistler's father) are mentioned among the lives of various selected West Point graduates. Attention is especially drawn to the contribution that these two men made in the field of railway engineering; the two men worked on the construction of the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, the Concord Railroad, and the Western Railroad. In 1842 G. W. Whistler went to St Petersburg, Russia, to supervise the construction of the Moscow to St Petersburg Railway, which is where he died. An engraved image of this project may be seen on a page from the website of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

The West Point show includes information upon the history of the famous United States Military Academy, its contribution to American life and society, and details of many famous graduates. Unfortunately the name of James McNeill Whistler does not feature in this list, as the young artist was in fact discharged from the Academy in June 1854 due to deficiency in Chemistry.