An American in London: Whistler and the Thames at Dulwich Picture Gallery
is the first major exhibition dedicated to American-born artist James McNeill Whistlers time in the capital between 1859 and 1903. Showcasing Whistlers scenes of London the exhibition includes paintings, etchings and drawings produced during the artists various residences and presents over 70 objects to provide a fascinating visual investigation into Whistlers depiction of the Thames and Victorian London during a transitional period in the expatriate artists creative development.
Co-curator Professor Margaret F. MacDonald explained Whistler settled in London in 1859 and his etchings and paintings mark one of his most successful and profound assaults on the art establishment of his day. Whistlers superb draughtsmanship is seen in etchings such as Black Lion Wharf and a fascinating series of working proofs of a view of the Pool of London. His sympathetic, straightforward depictions of workers and the dockyard environment of Dickensian London such as The Lime-burner and the rare Ratcliffe Highway are fresh and insightful. His sense of colour and expressive brushwork is strikingly demonstrated in such important paintings as Wapping which we are very fortunate to have from the National Gallery in Washington, and in later, misty and mysterious depictions of the foggy Thames side such as Variations in Pink and Grey from the Musée dOrsay.
The exhibition includes 15 of Whistlers paintings of Chelsea and the Thames River, along with 35 prints, ten rarely-seen drawings, watercolours, and pastels and culminates in several of his famous Nocturnes including Nocturne: Blue and Gold Old Battersea Bridge (1872/1873) , one of the artists most critically acclaimed and widely-known paintings of Battersea Bridge, and a study of Black and Gold: The Fire Wheel (1893). Further exhibition highlights includes earlier works such as Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge, (1859-1863) and Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses (c. 1864). A man about town, referred to by some as a dandy, Whistler led a colourful life in London and his work raised controversy with John Ruskin, in 1877, accusing him of flinging a pot of paint in the publics face. Whistler subsequently sued Ruskin winning pitiful damages but a moral victory against the critic. Whistler spent much of the later years of his life in the capital, where he died in 1903 and was buried in St Nicholass Church cemetery, Chiswick.
This exhibition features portraits of Whistler and his patrons, bringing to life the personalities involved in this prolific period in the artists career. Portraits including The Artists Studio (1865) and Symphony in White No. 2: The Little White Girl (1864), as well as a lesser-known etching self-portrait, Whistler with a Hat (1859), are on display. The exhibition is complemented by historical photographs hung throughout the exhibition which help to place Whistlers work into the social context of the Chelsea neighbourhood where he lived and worked whilst bringing to life the stories behind some of the famous works. Fourteen etchings from the Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes of the Thames, 1871 are on display, including Rotherhithe (1860), an etching closely related to Wapping (1860-64), the innovative oil painting of the same year which features Whistlers mistress Jo, is also in the show. The exhibition is co-curated by Professor Margaret F. MacDonald, Honorary Professorial Research Fellow and Dr. Patricia de Montfort, Lecturer, School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow. Professor Margaret F. MacDonald was co-curator of Tates major 1994 exhibition: James McNeill Whistler.
Loans were secured from key lenders including the Musée dOrsay, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Colby College Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, the Art Institute of Chicago, V&A, Tate, the British Museum, and the Hunterian. An American in London: Whistler and the Thames will be on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery in autumn 2013 before touring the following year to: Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts (1 February 13 April 2014) and Freer Gallery of American Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C. (2 May 14 August 2014). A catalogue accompanies the exhibition written by Margaret F. MacDonald and Patricia de Montfort, published by Philip Wilson Publishers. It presents the definitive examples of Whistlers radical new aesthetic approach to the time-honoured subject of the city and river.