James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
(photo credit: Tel Aviv Museum of Art)
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art is presenting a selection of prints by
American-born, British-based artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (July
1834 — July 1903). The exhibition showcases art from the peak of
Whistler's career, demonstrating his unique ability to use print in
order to depict new topics typical of the modern world. Active in
England and France in the mid-19th century, Whistler's prints typically
exemplify scenes from modern cities and the escalating industrialization
accompanied by extreme economical and social changes. They also depict
the daily lives of the working classes in Paris and London. Whistler
utilized the unique qualities of etching to describe modern life from a
socially and politically critical perspective.
The exhibit presents prints from Whistler's set of etchings called
the "Thames Set," which he completed in 1960 after a year in London as a
counterpoint to his 1858 "French Set." The series "Twelve Etchings
from Nature," from his French set, is directly juxtaposed against
"Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects" in both
subject matter and theme. Whistler's prints consistently demonstrate a
complete mastering of capturing both foggy city scenes and rustic ruins;
it is these etchings that mark the beginning of Whistler's trademark
technique of tonal harmony based on a limited, pre-determined palette.
Gifted at engraving, Whistler's large production of etchings and
lithographs spans years of work. Many consider his finest to be the
subjects at Thames, while others that depict more intimate street scenes
in London and Paris are also highly valued.
"The Thames in Ice" is considered an early Impressionist work,
marking Whistler as one of the influences of American Impressionists.
While studying in France, Whistler was even introduced to the circle of
Gustave Courbet, who was close friends with Edouard Manet, both pivotal figures
in the Realism and Impressionism movements. In 1892, towards the end of
his life, Whistler left London to Paris and was welcomed by artists like
Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin. Eventually returning to London in 1896,
Whistler continued to create drawings on lithograpic transfer paper of
the view of the Thames. Whistler's art was also highly influenced by
Charles Baudelaire, who challenged artists to portray life and nature in
less figurative way, avoiding symbolism and metaphors. His art,
particularly the prints displayed in the exhibit from London, reflects
this intense realism.
Whistler's interest in etching stemmed from time spent in England;
upon one of his returns to Paris, he traveled the French countryside and
the Rhine region--creating some of the more simple, rural etchings
displayed in the exhibit (that appear in "The French Set.") His own
signature movement Tonalism, however, is conveyed throughout the
exhibition: Tonalism is an artistic style that emerged in the 1880s when American
artists began to paint landscape forms with an overall tone of colored
atmosphere or mist. Eventually eclipsed by Impressionism and modernism,
Whistler's work certainly holds a very distinct style. A leader in the
Aesthetic Movement--promoting "art for art's sake"--Whistler advocated
simple design and the tonal harmony of the final result. His art avoids
overly-labored technique and sentimentality. The body of work displayed
at the museum showcases his impressive talents and gives credit to a
prolific artist whose body of work truly represents a period of marked
changes and intense transition.
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