Riverside Art Museum

Riverside, CA





Whistler: Impressions of an American Abroad, Etchings and Lithographs from the Carnegie Museum of Art

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The Riverside Art Museum is pleased to present in 1999 the only West Coast showing of Whistler: Impressions of an American Abroad. James McNeill Whistler was one of the most innovative artists of the 19th century. Like many of the great painters of his generation, Whistler was also a dedicated graphic artist, and today is considered one of the most influential printmakers in the history of art. This exhibit, organized by the Carnegie Museum of Art and The American Federation of Arts, includes 50 etchings and 31 lithographs, including many of the artist's most noted graphic achievements.

Whistler's conviction that prints are equal to paintings as an expression of the artist's creativity fostered a renaissance among European and American printmakers in the generations that followed him, and an abiding interest in collecting prints for their own sake that persists even today.

Born in Massachusetts, Whistler spent most of his life abroad. When he moved to Paris in 1855, the revival of etching as a creative medium was just gaining momentum. Whistler brought great creativity to the medium. Five works from Whistler's first set of etchings, the "French Set" of 1858, are included in the exhibition. The repertoire of subjects for which he would become known - the humble figure framed in the doorway, the obscure landscape or building, the effect of light on a subject, and nocturnal scenes - makes its first appearance in these early works.

Endeavoring to create portrayals of ordinary people and places, Whistler turned to London's squalid, dilapidated wharves along the river Thames as inspiration for a group of etchings later published as the "Thames Set." The flattened picture space in these 1859 etchings reflect the influence of the new medium of photography and the treatment of space in the Japanese woodblock prints he began to collect. (The museum is also exhibiting Views of a Different World: Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Pacific Asia Museum) The Thames etchings received immediate acclaim, with critics comparing Whistler to another famous etcher, Rembrandt (1606 - 1669).

The 1870s was a turbulent decade for Whistler. A dispute with one of his patrons and a lawsuit against the critic John Ruskin left him bankrupt. In 1879, a commission allowed him to travel to Venice where he returned to printmaking hoping it would help recoup his losses. Today his Venice etchings are considered among Whistler's most inspired and influential works. Ignoring the usual tourist sites, Whistler chose to portray the unexpected Venice in vignettes of obscure canals and doorways.

The exhibit also includes a set of etchings executed in Amsterdam in 1889, Whistler's last major work in the medium. Differing from the atmospheric tones of the Venice etchings, the Amsterdam prints are covered with fine cross hatching that defines the city's buildings and canals. These late works hint at abstraction more than any other prints of the period. Other works on view include drypoint portraits and lithographs, including an extremely rare color lithograph.

From top to bottom: James McNeill Whistler, The Tall Bridge, 1878, lithograph with crayon, 10 3/4 x 7 1/8 inches; James McNeill Whistler, Black Lion Wharf, 1859, etching, 6 x 9 inches; James McNeill Whistler, The Toilet, 1878, lithotint with crayon, 10 1/4 x 6 1/2 inches; Hiroshige, A View of Eitai Bridge and Tsukuda Island, 1857, woodblock print, from companion exhibition Views of a Different World: Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Pacific Asia Museum; James McNeill Whistler, The Limeburner, 1859, etching and drypoint.

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

See also: James McNeill Whistler Etchings & Lithographs at The Cummer (1/5/99), and Whistler in Venice (12/8/98), and The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler (7/22/98),andWhistler: Impressions of an American Abroad - Etchings and Lithographs from the Carnegie Museum of Art (3/10/98),

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