Lines and Colors art blog

On Beauty and the Everyday: The Prints of James McNeill Whistler

On Beauty and the Everyday: The Prints of James McNeill Whistler
I’ve written before about the beautiful etchings of James McNeill Whistler, whose work as an etcher is even less well known than his paintings.

On Beauty and the Everyday: The Prints of James McNeill Whistler is a new exhibition opening this Saturday, August 21, 2010, at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, which has one of the most extensive collections of Whistler’s graphic work in the U.S.

The collection, which you can preview here, contains examples of some of Whistler’s finest and best known etchings.

Unfortunately, both the exhibition page preview (link for “More Images” at bottom) and the above images of the collection (meant to facilitate ordering slide sets) are small.

Etchings by their nature are subtle, with delicate lines against toned papers. This is part of their unique visual charm, but it makes them difficult to do justice in reproduction. There are some larger images on the site of the Frick Collection in New York. You can find impressions of some of the same etchings in both collections.

Some of the best online reproductions I’ve found are on the University of Glasgow’s site for James Mcneill Whistler: The Etchings, A Catalog Raisonne. Unfortunately the Catalog Raisonne mentioned is a book project, and the online resources are from from complete, but what is there is large enough to appreciate some of the subtlety of Whistler’s touch. You have to drill down a bit. Go to “Exhibition”, scroll down, click on the thumbnail to access the detail page, then click again on the image for the large version.

Next best may be the online images from the Freer Sackler Online Collections.

You will sometimes find the same etching in different “states”, impressions pulled form the plate at various stages of the artist’s work on the image.

Whistler was inspired by the etchings of Rembrandt, likely the finest practitioner of the art in history, and to a great degree revitalized the art in his time and placed himself high in the canon of the world’s great etchers and lithographers.

The exhibition at the University of Michigan Museum of Art continues to November 28, 2010.

For more information and links to resources, see my previous posts on James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Whistler’s Etchings. In the latter I give a brief overview of the process of creating an etching.

Etchings of James McNeill Whistler is wonderfully inexpensive Dover book.

I haven’t seen Etchings by Whistler: Sixty Photographs from Original Prints. It’s a facsimile of a book published in 1923 and I don’t know how well it’s fared in the reproduction.


7 responses to “On Beauty and the Everyday: The Prints of James McNeill Whistler”

  1. Hey. Charley – thanks for the road map! After experimenting with etching on my own, I know what’s necessary for a good foundation since my early attempts were on aluminum. Even more fascinating yet is the necessity to compose in reverse – difficult at best (although I can do it remarkably well with characters), I’ve always admired the etching work on early U.S. stamps. This is ART, not sign art.

  2. Thank you for another informative and insightful post with great links. I’ve linked to you on a number of occasions, the last one being my post about the Eakins exhibit at LACMA. You posted about the Gross Clinic and, as always, gave great links along with your essay.

  3. I got to work with these etchings at the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, SC while they were there in the spring. After spending countless hours with them, they have left an indelible mark on my personal work.

  4. Etchings are still works of mystery to me. What an under-appreciated Artist, Whistler! I remember being really taken with his works when I saw them projected at one of Charles Cecil’s lectures.

  5. What’s always amazed me is just how small some of the the etchings are compared to what I expected. I guess we get used to seeing them in books at sizes much larger than they are in reality.

  6. My favourite artist by far. I have no Whistlers at the moment (I sold a lovely one – “Little Dordecht” a couple of weeks ago in London)- I do have etchings by Seymour Haden, Mortimer Menpes and H Mulready Stone (less well known but heavily influenced by Whistler). I am an independent art dealer specialising in works on paper (drawings and prints)and aim to be the best value outlet on-line.