Whistler Centenary Conference
Caroline Arscott, Courtauld Institute of Art
Stenographic Notations: Whistler's Late Etchings
This paper will investigate the array of marks used by Whistler to indicate figures and locales in his late etchings. His increasingly sparse and fragmentary notation will be discussed in terms of writing, speaking and coded transcription. The idea of description will be put alongside the idea of mapping and, additionally discussed in relation to shorthand. Questions concerning the temporality of the image will be central to the discussion that will consider the thematisation and impact of modernity. Issues concerning the gendering of artistic labour will also be addressed.
Paul Barlow, University of Northumbria at Newcastle
Whistler and Millais: Allies or Opposites?
The relationship between Whistler and Millais is a difficult one clearly to characterise. Whistler received support from Millais in his early years, and was to write approvingly of Millais's Eve of St Agnes, a painting that clearly indicates the influence of Whistler's own White Girl. For most writers on the relationship between the two artists, this is where the story ends. While Millais is said to have descended into a painter of popular pot-boilers, Whistler refined his increasingly abstract or 'musical' approach to art, confirming his status as the most innovative figure within the British art world. But the truth is more complex. The two artists remained in touch throughout their later lives, and it is clear that their rivalry developed. Both painted portraits of the society hostess and artist Louise Jopling, at whose Salons - presided over by Millais's painting - Whistler was a frequent visitor. Millais's bravura picture differed markedly from Whistler's characteristic mix of the ethereal and the seductive. However, Millais also would later adapt the precedent of Whistler's own work. A long period of sparring between the two artists followed, including their rival portraits of Thomas Carlyle, and Millais's response to Whistler's famous portrait of his mother.
By the early 1870s Millais was praising Whistler's nocturnes, paying homage to them in his own very un-Whistler like narrative picture The North-West Passage, a painting that epitomised the differences between the two painters. By the mid-1870s both felt the lash of Ruskin's attacks for their alleged 'sloppy' style. Millais continued to support Whistler during this period, as his admiring letters reveal. But the subtle game played between the two artists continued. Both painted versions of Effie Deans, and both worked on a painting called The Grey Lady. Only Millais's survives. It is perhaps Millais's most Whistlerian work.
Throughout their careers, both artists demonstrated their vitality in the face of challenge, and their capacity to excite controversy - albeit in differing ways. The competition between Whistler and Millais tells how their art differs, but also how they placed themselves within the social networks of the late Victorian art world and of fashionable society.
Leslie Carlyle, Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage
From Pigments to Colours: the Change in Artists' Oil Painting Materials 1840-1900
From Whistler's initial experience in London at the end of the 1840s to the time that he settled there in 1863 and continued painting through to the end of the 1900s, there was a gradual change taking place in artists' relationship to their oil painting materials. The colourmen were developing paint products which were increasingly commercialised, and artists were becoming less involved in the preparation and manipulation of their paint prior to painting.
This paper will explore this shift and show how artists left behind their direct involvement with individual pigments to end up choosing from a range of "colours" offered by the colourmen. Oils used as paint binders and mediums available for changing the flow-properties of the paint will also be discussed. New information will be presented from recent research on a British colourmen's archive.
Monica Kjellman Chapin, Clark University
Points of Context and Contact: Whistler's Nudes Framed
This paper articulates a set of contexts in which Whistler's 1890s paintings of the female nude, long relegated to a subsidiary position in the artist's production, can be interpreted. All too often dismissed as less interesting than his 'Nocturnes', 'Symphonies', and 'Arrangements', these paintings of the female nude were, on the contrary, of considerable importance to the artist, as evidenced both by his reluctance to part with them and by his emphasis on them in his correspondence with Charles Lang Freer and others.
In this paper, rather than see these paintings as second-rate images, I heed the clues of the letters and investigate them as works of critical significance to the artist and as a continuation of Whistler's earlier concerns about disegno, colore, and l'art pour l'art, especially in light of the dialogic relationship they have with the paintings of the female figure by Whistler's contemporaries and immediate predecessors. For instance, images such as Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Little Blue Girl, which Whistler began in 1894 at the request of Freer, have a direct connection with the art of Albert Moore and J. A. D. Ingres, two artists who seem to be the antitheses of Whistler stylistically speaking.
But such an ostensible binary opposition is not borne out by close scrutiny at either Whistler's paintings or letters in which paintings are referenced; rather, what emerges from investigation is the realisation that Whistler placed considerable emphasis on the female body as a signifier of artistic worth. Thus, my paper proposes not only contexts for understanding such images in Whistler's oeuvre, but specific readings of his bodies; I argue that nudes such as The Little Girl must be understood intertextually, as the results of a deliberate and direct dialogical exchange with the bodies of other, less radically scripted, artists.
David Curry, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
The paper begins with The Balcony [c.1865, Freer Gallery], a transitional work literally sited between London's two most important pleasure gardens, Vauxhall (18th century) and Cremorne (19th century). Whistler's evolving style is assessed against the emergence of popular entertainment and an urban picturesque that mitigated the haphazard development and expansion of the British Capital, quite different from the rebuilding of Paris under autocratic French rule. Re-examining his self-proclaimed rejection of Courbet's Realism, the paper goes on to explore how Whistler's work served as a nexus between Impressionism and the Aesthetic Movement, two movements ordinarily considered distinct. In his tireless efforts to avoid being typecast, Whistler dissociated himself not only from Realism but also from both of these, yet he synthesized all three.
Linda J. Docherty, Bowdoin College
Transatlantic Correspondence: James McNeill Whistler and Isabella Stewart Gardner
Although they are seldom coupled in the art historical literature, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) had much in common. Born only six years apart, the painter and his patron shared Scottish ancestry, cosmopolitan orientation, celebrity status, and a devotion to beauty that characterized their respective legacies. Gardner's fame as a collector of European old masters has obscured her connection with the American artist whose aesthetic vision helped to pave the way for modernism. When she conceived her museum idea in 1896, however, she owned more works by Whistler than any other painter. Gardner's interest in her expatriate countryman did not wane when she turned her energy to her museum project. Quite the contrary, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum attests to her continuing admiration for Whistler's achievement and identification with him as a creator.
Whistler figured prominently in Gardner's early activity as a cultural entrepreneur. The two met through Henry James in London in 1879 and remained friends until his death in 1903, the year she opened her museum. In 1886 Whistler painted a small pastel portrait of Gardner, The
Little Note in Yellow and Gold, the first such likeness she commissioned. She purchased two additional pastels that year and, in the following decade, a fourth pastel and two oil paintings, which she exhibited prominently in her Back Bay townhouse. In America Gardner also worked on Whistler's behalf to obtain a mural commission for the Boston Public Library and to find a buyer for the Peacock Room. When she died in 1924 her collection included paintings, prints, drawings, memorabilia and numerous books by, about, and from the artist.
Gardner expressed her affinity for Whistler's artistic values in the conception and design of Fenway Court (The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum). Her initial proposal to call her museum 'the Borgo Allegro' echoed his assertion, in the Ten O'Clock Lecture, that 'Art and Joy go together.' Gardner's installation of Whistler's pictures at Fenway Court showed her understanding of his aestheticism. Gilt and painted leather wall covering in the Veronese Room enhanced the colors of the pastels. Modern paintings and musical artifacts in the Yellow Room complemented the tonal qualities of the oils. Gardner also paid homage to Whistler in the Long Gallery, which enshrined relics of political and artistic notables.
She prominently displayed his photographic portrait, calling card, walking stick, and drawings in a case facing the central museum courtyard. Correspondence between Whistler and Gardner attests to the depth of their artistic sympathies. Letters describe visits to the artist's studio, purchases of paintings, and exchange of gifts as a source of mutual pleasure. In 1895 Whistler wrote to Gardner, 'There was a time when I thought America far away-but you have really changed all that-and this wonderful place of yours on the Bay ends by being nearer to us than is the Bois to the Boulevard on a summer afternoon.' Gardner's correspondence after Whistler's death reveals an abiding interest in his work and reputation. Late-life inquiries about the price of a study for La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine and whether Arrangement in Grey and Black was on view at the Luxembourg confirm that Whistler's art retained special significance for her.
Although Whistler never saw the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, he recognized its maker as a kindred spirit. Gardner's copy of Eden versus Whistler: The Baronet & the Butterfly contains the following dedication: 'To Mrs. Gardner, whose appreciation of the work of art is only equalled by her understanding of the artist.' Recognition of the creative connection
between painter and collector expands our view of the cultural significance of each. Gardner's museum appears inspired by modernist principles and Whistler's aestheticism lives on in an institutional context.
Stephen Hackney, Tate Galleries
Whistler's painting technique
Unusually among artists working in Britain in the nineteenth century Whistler was trained in France. He brought to British art a refreshingly rigorous approach to painting and was notoriously at odds with his contemporaries. Throughout his life Whistler developed some specific methods of his own, for instance, for the painting of nocturnes. In later life Whistler evolved a very limited and exacting method for his painted portraits. His highly literate student and assistant, Walter Sickert, eventually became exasperated with the limitations of Whistler's technique. Whistler never did.
I will describe the salient points of Whistler's methods, with reference to nocturnes, early works, early and late portraits, pochards and sketches. I will be able to draw directly on the experience of the restoration of several of the Tate's Whistlers, specifically, Cicely Alexander, Three Figures: Pink and Grey, Nocturne in Blue and Silver, and Nocturne in Blue-Green, and on the examination of many others.
This approach seeks to understand the artist's methods by a comparison of examination results with information drawn from sources in the literature. The cleaning of Whistler's paintings and the assessment of changes in their condition also allows us to understand the artist's attitude to aesthetics.
Julian Hanna, University of Glasgow
Whistler's 'Ten O'Clock' and the Origins of the Manifesto in British Modernism
Oh Jimmie Whistler, ever fighting;
In rows and 'runctions' still delighting;
Small - as your fellow man's despiser;
Great artist - as self-advertiser!
Frederick Keppel, The Gentle Art of Resenting Injuries (1904)
In this paper, which forms part of my research on the manifesto in British modernism, I propose to analyse Whistler's famous 'Ten O'Clock' lecture as the first important example of the modernist manifesto in Britain. The manifesto has always, since its historical use in the declaration of war or revolutionary uprising, been about 'making enemies.' When the form was first adapted to the aesthetic declaration in the late-nineteenth century it was a pointed but still 'gentle' art, accompanied in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies and in Whistler's pamphlets by the image of a butterfly with a scorpion's sting. Later with Vorticism, led by another self-proclaimed 'enemy,' Wyndham Lewis, the avant-garde manifesto exchanged the fencer's blade and duelling pistols for the machine-gun. It took on a bold typeface and placed its rhetoric on a war footing. It is in the avant-garde period that the artistic manifesto becomes a truly independent genre with definite traits. To read Whistler's writings on art, however, is to find important links between the artistic proclamations of the fin-de-siècle and the more explicit manifestos of the avant-garde. The focus of this paper will be the 'Ten O'Clock,' but evidence will be drawn from across his written oeuvre. It will be my contention that the manifesto in Britain, beginning with Whistler, takes a radically different shape from the manifestos that advertise continental artistic movements: it is individual rather than group oriented, reactive and iconoclastic rather than utopian and visionary. Unlike its counterparts in Germany or Italy, for example, the manifesto in Britain remains rooted in fin-de-siècle ideas of individualism and autonomy. Paradoxically, the manifesto form, while it is always inscribed with its political origins, is adopted by artists starting with Whistler not to announce an art of increased praxis to daily life and social concerns but the very opposite - an autonomous art disengaged from social responsibility.
Lilly Koltun, Portrait Gallery of Canada
Whistler and the Photographers
Whistler's influence on the Pictorialist photographers of the 1890s - 1900s, who created a world-wide movement to posit photography as art, has been frequently remarked, although limited to stylistic or philosophical parallels and even those, rarely traced in detail. This talk will posit a much more profound influence on this ambitious movement than usually credited, and on several fronts -- not only the direct imitation of artistic themes, compositions and effects and the formulation of artistic philosophy and intent, but also, remarkably, the near-wholesale assumption of a new biographical template of public behaviour. This new model required leading Pictorialist photographers to break the hard-won previous template defining the life of the artistic photographer of the Victorian period and instead to take on a wholly different template, often at dramatic odds with the first. Casting their role as defenders of the true art in photography, Pictorialists made themselves valiant knights not so much of Daguerre (as Sadakichi Hartmann dubbed them) as of 'the great Whistler himself', to quote Sidney Carter, a prominent Canadian Pictorialist.
The biography of an artistic Victorian photographer, modelled by Matthew Brady in the United States, William Notman in Canada, Oliver Sarony in Great Britain, and Nadar in France among many others, required an immediately and financially successful studio with a superior class of clientele and the employment of other operators and artists. Despite this collective effort, the photographer would be applauded for a 'unique' talent, one admired by all; hence, paradoxically, it would need to be an understandable talent, outstanding within its conventions both technically and artistically, and winning prizes from local and international exhibitions. Such a photographer might produce photographs of any subject, whether portraits, landscapes, genre illustration, composites, news events, or tourist views documenting geographical and ethnographical wonders. He deployed sophisticated social skills in client relationships; worked with unflagging diligence; exhibited marketing savvy; and contributed to professional trade magazines. However after the new age of aestheticism and more particularly of Whistler, leading artistic photographers, such as Alfred Stieglitz in the United States, J. Craig Annan in Great Britain, Robert Demachy in France and Sidney Carter in Canada, would need to ensure that their biographies were congruent with an entirely new template. Whether they were amateur or professional, they would need to be virulently opposed to an orientation around financial considerations. They had to deny any controlling importance to subject or to client, and would take many of their sitters from an intimate and often anonymous circle of friends and family, and their landscapes from an equally narrow range, often at those times of day and in that atmosphere Whistler most sought out -- dusk, night, fog. They had to work alone, finding validation less among the established associations they tried than within small, like-minded bands of co-workers; these were often secessionist groups which they helped to found, or which they led. They disdained prizes while insisting, even autocratically, on a new type of minimalist, decorative salon space and a media-neutral value system, and they contributed to mostly Pictorialist magazines. While they disparaged technology as a determinant of artistry, they experimented with difficult and unusual techniques, particularly in making prints. They proposed an elite status for their art, cultivating an exclusive audience while claiming to proselytize to the broad public; took tendentious stands on principle, often eschewing diplomacy, and showed unconventional, even bohemian, traits of personality. And they positioned themselves in an international sphere, looking most often to England and Europe for inspiration. The consistency and the scope of these multiple biographical tropes shared with Whistler, quite apart from the additional evident similarities of style and aesthetic conviction in their works, must give his influence new weight. His example helped guide Pictorialist photographers in thrusting their medium for the first time, by way of this newly re-defined pretension to art, into an avant-garde position vis-à-vis both traditional photography and traditional art, and to underwrite that pretension through their lives as much as their products
Katharine Lochnan, Art Gallery of Ontario
Whistler and Monet: Impressionism and Britain
The close friendship and collaboration between James McNeill Whistler and Claude Monet has yet to be investigated. It blossomed during the 1880s, and was of central importance to Whistler during the second half of his career.
Six years younger than Whistler, Monet followed in his footsteps through Gleyre's Academy into the Courbet circle. They were both admirers of Baudelaire, and shared the same group of friends in Paris, among them Manet and Fantin Latour. Although there is no documentary evidence that they met before the 1880s, it seems very likely that they met in the mid 1860s.
Visual evidence would suggest that Monet visited Whistler when he lived in London in exile during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71. The double impact of his early encounter with Turner in London and with Whistler's nocturnes has long been cited as crucial to Monet's painting Impression: Sunrise of 1872 which gave rise to the term 'impressionism'.
Throughout the 1870s the two artists followed parallel paths working on related themes and exploring ephemeral effects. Their transition from realism to impressionism and their evolving aesthetic vision was stimulated by their joint interest in Turner and Japanese prints. Their names became synonymous with the Thames and Seine respectively. The nationalist and environmental subtexts inherent in these works will be investigated.
It was during the 1880s that the Whistler-Monet friendship blossomed. Monet introduced Whistler to Mallarmé, and the three formed an unofficial 'société des trois' designed to promote the acceptance and recognition of each other's work on both sides of the Channel. The ideas they shared with Mallarmé had an impact on the art of Whistler and Monet. Whistler sought opportunities to exhibit with Monet, and may have seen him as his artistic successor. Monet worked his own variations on Whistler's themes in his later series paintings of the Seine, the Thames, and Venice.
Whistler was seen as a French artist in London and Paris during the 1870s, and was invited to exhibit in the 'First Impressionist Exhibition'. I will consider his relationship to impressionism, its role in the Whistler-Ruskin court case, and in the campaign which dominated the rest of his life: the introduction of French impressionism into England, and the promotion of Monet as its greatest exponent.
I will illustrate this lecture in part with works which will be shown in the 'Turner, Whistler, Monet' exhibition in Toronto, Paris, and London, in 2004-5.
Joanna Meacock, University of Glasgow
Apostles of the New Gospel: Whistler and Rossetti
In 1871 James McNeill Whistler showed his groundbreaking Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (1871; YMSM 101) to a close circle of friends, amongst whom was Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This very year Whistler chose to publish his Thames Set through F. S. Ellis of King Street, Covent Garden, that is, Rossetti's publisher. Rossetti had already persuaded his sister Christina to leave Macmillan for Ellis and Algernon Charles Swinburne to leave Hotten, planning to gather together 'a little knot of congenial writers'.
From March 1863, when Whistler had moved to 7 Lindsey Row, Chelsea, the two men had seen each other nearly every day, and their closeness was commented on by Du Maurier. Rossetti went out of his way for the younger artist, urging James Leathart in December 1863 to buy Wapping (1861; YMSM 35), and in the following year taking into his studio La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (1864; YMSM 50) in order to show to a prospective client. When Whistler was expelled from the Burlington Arts Club in December 1867, Rossetti and his brother left in support. In 1878 at the Whistler-Ruskin trial, Rossetti wrote supportively of Whistler. W. M. Rossetti, commenting on the artists' relationship between 1862 and 1872, declared that his brother had found Whistler 'eminently endowed with good-fellowship'.
This paper will investigate the relationship existing between these two artistic figures, examining not only Rossetti's encouragement and support of Whistler, but the two artists' rather subversive use of religious language in both their paintings and writings. In this context, both men's friendship with Swinburne, who notably adopted religious imagery in his secular and rather blasphemous poetry, will be considered. The artists' early Romantic interest in the supernatural and subsequent attraction to séances in the 1860s will be discussed, Rossetti's early Marion images will be compared with Whistler's White Girls of the 1860s and the whole will be placed in the context of the Aesthetic Movement's search for a new religion of beauty.
Margaret F. MacDonald, University of Glasgow
What is a Whistler?
'a representative finished picture!' (Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 21 Sept. 1893)
What constitutes a work of art by Whistler? The Hunterian collection includes art by Whistler and by his wife Beatrix that naturally shares the same provenance, and that are sometimes extremely difficult to tell apart. His pupils, Sickert and Menpes, shared the same subjects, and printed his etchings; Harper Pennington and Jerome Elwell imitated his technique and designed similar signatures. Even Whistler was concerned about similarities between his own paintings and those of Albert Moore; and he both copied works by other artists and was copied in his turn. On one occasion Whistler denounced a painting during an auction- only to admit later that it was in fact by him; and Sickert 'authenticated' works as being by Whistler, whether he thought they were or not. This paper discusses questions of authenticity and attribution, of fact and fantasy, from technical, historical and even mythical points of view.
Joy Newton, University of Glasgow
Whistler's French Critics
This paper examines Whistler's connections with the French writers, critics and supporters whom he got to know in the 1880s and 1890s, when he again turned his attention to France after being disillusioned with his reception in Britain. This group includes Théodore Duret, Robert de Montesquiou, Octave Mirbeau, Stéphane Mallarmé, Méry Laurent, J. K. Huysmans and Gustave Geffroy. A study of Whistler's relationship with the individual members of this motley crew - who range from an impoverished school-teacher, a wine merchant, a civil servant, a grand courtesan and a nobleman - reveals one constant factor: their unstinting support contributed immensely to his establishment as a major artist on the continent. Furthermore, we learn from a study of the correspondence they exchanged - much of which is preserved in the Special Collections of the University of Glasgow - that their support was often carefully co-ordinated among themselves.
Ultimately they acted as a distinguished personal 'mafia', by engineering deliberate campaigns in the press and by exerting discreet pressure on government ministers, and this helped Whistler receive high acclaim and official recognition in France.
Ayako Ono, Independent Scholar
Whistler and Japan
Numerous studies have been carried out on James McNeill Whistler, his life and art; he was profoundly inspired by Japanese art and the Japanese influence on his art has been frequently mentioned in the context of his artistic development. It is true that Whistler derived inspiration from Japanese art in terms of composition, space and harmony of colour in order to accomplish his own style.
On the other hand, Whistler's works and his attitude as an artist had a great impact in Japan in the beginning of the twentieth century. For instance, a woodblock print by Japanese artist, Urushiwara Mokuchu, Bridge Over River (After Whistler) (before 1919, British Museum), has a close resemblance to Whistler's Old Battersea Bridge (K.177, 1879. Etching). Urushiwara's technique is totally that of the Japanese traditional woodblock print although Whistler inspired him. Urushiwara was inspired by one of Whistler's river scenes with a bridge whose motif was originally inspired by Hiroshige.
Whistler's work was first introduced to Japan in at least the late 1880s. Soon after that, a very important Japanese politician met Whistler in London, sometime between March - April 1890. This was Kaneko Kentarou who studied at Harvard University with Theodore Roosevelt. Whistler and Kaneko discussed Japanese art while having a meal at the Athenaeum club. Kaneko was much involved in the International Exhibitions in Chicago and Paris after 1890, and there is no doubt that his meeting with Whistler influenced Japanese government's policy for the production of works of art for the Exhibitions.
There is another figure, Iwamura Toru, who introduced Whistler to Japanese readers and art students in an enthusiastic way. He was much devoted to John Ruskin and this may be the reason that his writing on Whistler often focused on his life as an artist rather than his works and techniques. It is unlikely that Iwamura met Whistler but he knew the Pennells and visited their house in London.
Whistler's works and his life were introduced to Japan by these figures and many Japanese artists were inspired by him. Some of them even visited Whistler's memorial exhibition in Boston.
In this paper, I intended to discuss when and how Whistler's life and work was introduced to Japan.
Grischka Petri, University of Bonn
Whistler and German History of Modern Painting - Another Case of "Art and Art Critics"
Whistler is today a forgotten and unknown artist in Germany. This paper tries to offer an explanation for this art historical amnesia. It focuses on three topics: Whistler's important contribution to the Munich International Art Exhibition of 1888, Whistler's role in the art history as written by Richard Muther, and how Julius Meier-Graefe effectively wiped Whistler out from the German art historical canon.
Whistler entered the German exhibition scene on a larger scale in 1888 when he sent a large body of works to the International Art Exhibition in Munich, then the centre of the German art world. Although this venture was a commercial failure for Whistler, it was with this exhibition he made a lasting impression on progressive young German art critics like Richard Muther (1860-1909). When Muther wrote his History of Modern Painting in 1893, he began the chapter on Whistler with a description of paintings at the Munich exhibition. Muther's text presents Whistler as an eccentric artist painting dreamy visions. Whistler's painterly qualities transcending realism are praised. In Muther's poetic interpretation, Whistler's portraits "remind the spectator of what is told of spiritualistic séances." In an art historical perspective, Whistler is seen as the artist who liberated colour from her realist duties, to give her truly poetical freedom.
Many other art critics of Muther's generation shared this view of Whistler
as a "neo-idealist," or symbolist, prototype. Whistler's colourist achievements
left plenty of room for the imagination of the beholder.
It was this ambivalence in Whistler's paintings that challenged Julius Meier-Graefe (1867-1935). In an article comparing Manet and Whistler, he praised the former to the expense of the latter. This was the germ for the chapter on Manet and Whistler in his Evolution of Modern Art (Entwicklungsgeschichte der modernen Kunst), published in 1904. In this book, he dismissed Whistler as an unconvincing painter losing his artistic personality in superficial effects.
Meier-Graefe's book was translated and published in two volumes in England in 1908, but this edition already differed from the original in many instances. The chapter on Whistler was taken from an altogether different book Meier-Graefe had recently completed: The Great Englishmen (Die großen Engländer). Here, Whistler again was presented as a mere mirror of influences, adding up to the image of a cosmopolitan industrial artist. In the text as published in England, the most severe criticisms are omitted, other passages are mellowed in tone. Meier-Graefe's original discussion of Whistler's The White Girl (YMSM 38) from the German text shows that he in Whistler also attacked a key figure of Symbolist art criticism, which Meier-Graefe was opposed to in favour of a new, more formalist approach. Everything that to the previous generation of art critics had been a reason to praise Whistler was in Meier-Graefe's eyes a reason to condemn him: "There are no spirits," he cries out, concluding: "Perhaps in Whistler we have not at all to deal with a painter [...]. Setting the painter aside, there is still enough over, though what remains is a very different figure from that hitherto presented by European art history. No painter of spiritual conditions and other invisible jests [...]." It was Meier-Graefe's task to re-write European art history for the German public. As a non-painter, Whistler would not be a part of it.
When Meier-Graefe published his re-written Evolution of Modern Art in 1914/15, Whistler indeed did not appear in it except for some depreciating remarks. This edition never was translated into English, but it had a tremendous effect on German art history. Modern art was equalled with French contributions to it, and the encyclopaedic view of Muther had seemingly never happened. Meier-Graefe's book was very popular (to Flechtheim it was "the most significant modernist art history of the era") and went into several re-editions, until after World War II, when his formalist qualities were rediscovered in Germany. Partly due to Meier-Graefean thoughts thus informing the art historical discourse, Whistler was kept out of it. What had begun as art criticism had become history of art.
Rupert Shepherd, Ashmolean Museum
Ariadne electronica: digitising the Ruskin Teaching Collection
During his time as Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford (1869-79 and 1883-5), John Ruskin assembled a collection of exemplary works to use as aids to the teaching of drawing in the classes he established at the University. The Ruskin Teaching Collection comprises watercolours, drawings, prints and photographs by old masters, Ruskin himself, his assistants and his friends and contemporaries, and is currently preserved in the Ashmolean Museum. The collection, organised into different series according to the objects' roles in Ruskin's schemes of instruction, was catalogued by Ruskin himself in several published and manuscript catalogues during his time as professor. The different editions of the catalogues reflect the arrangement of the collection - which was continuously changing - at certain fixed points.
Funding from the AHRB's Resource Enhancement Scheme has allowed work to begin on digitising the collection, Ruskin's catalogues, and the Ashmolean's catalogue information on the objects. The opportunities provided by digital technology should allow for the collection to be reconstructed virtually according to the different catalogues - something that has not been possible until now. However, the process is less straightforward than it might at first appear, as the collection was only fixed (with some difficulty) after Ruskin's death, and objects would move in and out of it at frequent intervals. In addition, ten or so editions have to be collated with the collection as it now stands and with the standardised edition of the catalogue published in Cook and Wedderburn's edition of Ruskin's complete works. This paper will outline the history of the collection and the complexities and problems of collating Ruskin's catalogues for digitisation.
Robert S. Slifkin, Yale University
Whistler as the Invisible Man: Anti-Aestheticism and Artistic Vision
H. G. Wells' novel The Invisible Man (1897) and its title character in particular can be seen as a satire of the flamboyant and contentious public persona of James McNeill Whistler. Through latent symbolism and intertextual allusions Wells relates his protagonist's principle trait with what he saw as the incapacity for social agency inherent in an autonomous and purely aesthetic art - the kind championed by Whistler in his books and letters. The apparent contradiction between the supposed idealism of Whistler's aesthetic theory and the brazen materialism and self-promotion that accompanied his public legal battles inspired Wells to combine various themes in the novel within a single character. Manifestly about the dangers of unregulated scientific progress, capitalism and modernity in general, the novel is also a critical portrait of Whistler as Aestheticist: a mercurial and elitist outsider whose experiments delve into the powers of visibility itself.
In this paper I will discuss the presence of Whistler in Wells' novel and examine the correlation between the Victorian discourse of invisibility and Whistler's art, focusing on his series of 'black' portraits. Drawing from the artist's published writings, correspondence and paintings and prints I plan to show how the concept of invisibility played a significant role in Whistler's aesthetic theory.
Miranda Stead, Artists' Papers Register
From Aalto to Zut: the Artists' Papers Register
The Artists' Papers Register is an art and design subject resource for finding the location of primary sources relating to artists, designers and craftspeople held in publicly accessible collections in the United Kingdom. The register includes artists irrespective of their nationality, period of activity or lack of professional status. In addition to individuals, the register also includes art related organisations, such as artists groups, academies; and also includes craft and artisan occupations; and the design content of manufacturing processes.
Daniel Sutherland, University of Arkansas
Getting Right with Whistler: An Artist and His Biography
There are some two dozen biographies of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the most recent one having been published in 1994. Each is admirable in its way, yet most scholars would agree that none of these works has fully captured the essence of the man or artist. The proposed paper will suggest why this is so and explain how future biographers might get right with Whistler. The biggest challenge to understanding Whistler's life is in penetrating the 'Whistler myth,' much of it created by the artist himself and subsequently sanctified in several early hagiographic biographies. A few scholars have tried to untangle fact from fiction, but it is not an easy task. With its extraordinarily engaging cast of characters, including a string of mistresses (the 'mistress-muses,' as one writer calls them), snarling art critics (whose hostility to Whistler has been vastly overstated), and an untutored genius mysteriously transformed into 'Great Master,' the romance surrounding Whistler remains powerful.
Yet the key to plumbing this myth is not so much to dismantle or ignore it as to make it a rational part of the story. It would be foolish to accept old interpretations of Whistler's motives and actions uncritically, but it would be equally unwise not to employ his mystique as a powerful narrative tool, to tell, in others words, how and why the myth was created and shaped by the artist, his friends, and early biographers. As one scholar, Elizabeth Prettejohn, has written, 'Both a study of the myth and an adequately contextualized study of Whistler's art ought to enhance the fascination of the artist.' Another obstacle to comprehending Whistler involves his many 'identities.' Born in the United States, reared in Russia, dividing his adult life between England and France, and being familiar with half a dozen other countries, Whistler assumed many identities and was the product of several cultural environments.
In that same vein, both the military tradition of his father's family and his mother's Celtic heritage and Southern birth helped to shape Whistler's image of himself. Early biographers, emphasizing his 'American' traits, cast him as an outsider (the 'lone rebel') who, while living abroad as an expatriate, remained, nonetheless, at odds with the British and European artistic establishments. More recent scholars, taking the opposite tack, have emphasized how Whistler's artistic ideas were shaped by his training and experience in France and England. The truth (naturally) lies somewhere in between, so that the artist's American roots as modified and tempered by his years abroad explain many of the quirky contours of his life and career.
Hoping to signal a fresh start in our appraisal of this complex man, the proposed
paper will do two things. First, by surveying six of the best known Whistler biographies,
it will show where the existing literature may be fairly judged lacking. The biographers
to be considered will be Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell (1908), James Laver (1930),
Hesketh Pearson (1952), Stanley Weintraub (1974), G.H. Fleming (1978, 1991), and
Ronald Anderson and Anne Koval (1994). Each of these writers analyzes Whistler's
life with a different purpose, determined partly by their different understandings
of the art of biography. Yet all, to some extent, tend to describe and recreate
the public Whistler, that is, the Whistler of the myths, created by the artist's
published words and his reaction to public events. They have fallen into this
trap because even biographers who seek to rise above the myth (most notably Anderson
and Koval) often forsake the sources that would permit them to do so. In addition,
all post-Pennell biographers have been handicapped by a tendency, even when challenging
the Pennells' general interpretation of Whistler's life, to accept the accuracy
of the couple's facts. A comparison of the Pennell text with the Pennell sources
will show how this can lead to trouble.
My second goal, having questioned the assumptions and evidence on which earlier interpretations have been based, is to suggest how new questions and fresh evidence can help to correct these false steps. I have already mentioned some ways in which this might be done, especially where the complex issue of 'identity' becomes a factor; but the proposed paper will also raise other issues. For example, how did the boy become the man? What forces and events shaped Whistler's life prior to his leaving America in 1855? The first twenty-one years of his life--crucial to anyone's development--have never been satisfactorily examined, but a reassessment of family correspondence and consideration of some hitherto unused sources (especially for Whistler's years as a West Point cadet) offer tantilizing leads. What of Whistler's role in creating and nurturing the elements of his mythical self? Was this persona purposely contrived by Whistler, part of a conscious plan? If so, toward what end? And is the myth entirely untrue, or need we be careful in dismantling it not to dispose of some genuinely revealing elements?
How, then, should Whistler be viewed in the year 2003? My own efforts to understand his work and life are still so helplessly undeveloped and tentative that I cannot respond to that central question with anything like a manifesto, but here are three points, each incorporating the most recent scholarly thinking about his life, that cannot be ignored. First, Whistler was an enormous force in the creation not only of modern art as art, but also of the modern art world, by which I mean the marketing of art and the purposeful shaping of an artistic image (hinted at so provocatively in the work of Sarah Burns). Equally important, he displayed his artistic genius not only through his technical achievements and the works he created, but also in the way he perceived the world and depicted it in his art. In modern parlance, Whistler thought 'outside the box,' and in doing so, he forced ordinary people to see the world differently and established a precedent that permitted other, less confident, artists to follow his lead. Second, the man who became this artist was at once more and less complicated than his biographers have realized. Walter Sickert once noted that the principal difficulty in appraising Whistler's art is that he belonged to no artistic 'school.' Similarly, the lack of some anchor or secure starting point confounds efforts to understand his character and life. His rootless wandering from boyhood to death, his seemingly erratic behavior, and an aristocratic persona that belies his nearly Barbizon devotion to the art of the commonplace are only the most obvious obstacles a biographer confronts. However, I will suggest that many of these contradictions become less confounding if one acknowledges two defining elements in Whistler's life: Absolute devotion to his art and a tendency to take little other than his art (with the exception of personal honor) terribly seriously. Third, Whistler's life and work reflect a composite of multiple cultural and artistic influences. Kenneth Clark once wrote that all great artists are borrowers, and Whistler is a prime example of that truth. For a long time, biographers emphasized the American influence on Whistler's art; more lately, the French influence has been stressed (and, of course, the Oriental in an indirect, intellectual sense). I will suggest that the British influence has not received the attention it deserves.
The centenary publication of Whistler's correspondence will bring unprecedented attention to his life and work and provide an incredible resource for reassessing both. Just as perspective is the essence of any work of art, so the perspective a biographer takes of his subject is the determining factor in how revealing, how 'true,' will be the end result. The proposed paper, by looking at Whistler through the prism of biography, rather than strictly that of art criticism or even of conventional history, will suggest some new ways to view his life and point to hitherto unappreciated (or at least under-appreciated) influences on his art; and Whistler's art, after all, is the reason we commemorate his life.
Georgia Toutziari, University of Glasgow
Ambition, hopes and disappointments - the Relationship of Whistler and His Mother as Seen in their Correspondence
The paper will focus on the relationship between James Whistler and his mother Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881). It will bring together for analysis and comparison primary archival material previously unpublished. It will illustrate a moralistic conversation between mother and son, heavily tied with family bonds, underlined by Anna Whistler's domestic and religious duties. It will also explore Anna Whistler's role in her son's artistic career including the promotion and marketing of his work. The paper will develop some of the work already undertaken during my PhD thesis: An Annotated Edition of the Correspondence of Anna Whistler.
The quiet and pious woman immortalised in her son's Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, was a prolific correspondent who knew how to shape her epistolary style to suit the person in question. She wrote constantly to her son (some 120 letters), family and friends. Her writings present a wealth of historical documentation relating to social, economic, literary and art historical subjects, documenting life and culture in the central 50 years of the nineteenth century in America, Britain and Russia.
Joyce H. Townsend, Tate Galleries
Whistler's choice of painting materials
Whistler considered that the actual palette and its organisation was key to the production of his paintings, and those of his students. He chose his materials with care, and used a limited selection of colours on each painting. He also took pride in being able to efface most of a portrait, then re-create it without the mistake that had made it impossible to develop the composition the previous time.
The Hunterian Art Gallery possesses several Whistler palettes, and the best surviving collection of his materials. Some have been analysed and discussed before.1. Further analysis of the materials that have been inaccessible due to display until recent years will be carried out during 2003. Whistler's actual use of materials as shown by the palettes, a study of his paintings at Tate Britain, and a more limited study of paintings in the Hunterian Art Gallery in the early 1990s will be discussed and compared to the materials used by contemporaries working in Britain, such as John Singer Sargent and George Frederick Watts. His use of colour harmonies, modified oil medium and carefully-chosen grey rather than white grounds will also be contrasted with published studies of the French Impressionists and the Barbizon School. The comparison will bring into focus the visual differences between Whistler's paintings and those of his contemporaries.
1. 'Whistler's oil painting materials', J H Townsend, The Burlington Magazine, CXXXVI, 1994 pp. 690-695.
2. 'Painting techniques and materials of Turner and other British artists 1775-1875', J H Townsend, Historical painting techniques, materials and studio practice, preprints, Getty Conservation Institute, 1995 pp. 176-186.
3. Callen, A., The Art of Impressionism: Painting technique and the making of modernity, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2000, pp.30-44.
4. Bomford, D., Kirby, J., Leighton, J., and Roy, A., Art in the Making: Impressionism, National Gallery Publications, 1990.
5. Burmester, A., Heilmann, C., and Zimmermann, M., Barbizon. Malerei der Natur - Nature der Malerei, Klinkhardt and Biermann, München, 1999.