Davison Art Center at Wesleyan University

Middletown, CT




James McNeill Whistler and the Etching Revival

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Etchings by the American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler are featured in an exhibition of prints by French, English and American artists active in the 19th-century etching revival. In addition to superb impressions of Whistler's etchings, the exhibition includes works by Whistler's English brother-in-law, Seymour Haden; the French Barbizon painter-etchers, Jean-François Millet and Charles Daubigny; and the American etchers, Thomas Moran and Joseph Pennell. The exhibition opens runs through Oct. 17, 1999.

A brilliant artist and fascinating personality, Whistler was strongly influenced by the etchings he saw in France in the 1850s. He played a central role in the English etching revival and greatly influenced American collectors and painter-etchers, who were late arrivals to the international etching movement. Whistler's work commanded respect from a wide-ranging audience including Charles Baudelaire, who described the artist's prints as the "profound and intricate poetry of a vast capital."

The impressions of Whistler's etchings shown in the exhibition all came from the collection of George W. Davison (1872-1953, B.A. Wesleyan 1892), a New York banker, discerning print collector, and benefactor of the Davison Art Center. It was primarily through the generosity of Mr. Davison that the collection has such outstanding holdings of prints by Whistler as well as by his English and European forerunners.

Whistler and Haden were among the most important figures associated with the etching revival in England during the second half of the 19th century. Both men emphasized the importance of original etching as opposed to illustration, an idea which had a lasting effect on the work of their younger American contemporaries.

While the etching revival began somewhat earlier in England, the movement in France enjoyed a much wider base and exerted a far greater influence on the medium. The Barbizon painters were among the earliest French artists to revive etching. On view are works by Daubigny, Millet, and Henri Rousseau. Soon other French artists, including the brilliant and eccentric Charles Meryon, began making etchings. Selections from Meryon's Eauxu-Fortes sur Paris (Etchings of Paris), the artist's personal and somewhat morbid interpretations of the city of Paris, are included in the exhibition.

In the 1870s, etching was promoted in America by societies and clubs which, following Whistler and Haden, stressed the importance of etching as a creative medium. Painter-etchers including Moran, Pennell, J. Alden Weir and John Henry Twachtman produced outstanding etchings and were influential in educating a new, younger generation of artists in the medium.

Images from top to bottom: James McNeill Whistler, Rotherhithe, 1860, etching and drypoint, Bequest of George W. Davison (B.A. Wesleyan 1892), 1953.D1.9; James McNeill Whistler,The Japanese Dress, 1890s, pencil, black chalk and pastel on brown paper, mounted on board, Bequest of George W. Davison (B.A. Wesleyan 1892), 1952.D1.10; J. Alden Weir (1852-1919), The Haystacks, etching and drypoint, some pen and blue ink, working proof, Gift of George W. Davison (B.A. Wesleyan 1892), 1947.D1.249; Joseph Pennell (1857-1926), Le Puy, 1894, etching and drypoint, third state, Gift of George W. Davison (B.A. Wesleyan 1892),

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

The Davison Art Center is located at 301 High St. in Middletown, Conn.

rev. 10/26/10

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