Tag Archives: whistler

Part 9: James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Last week on the Serendipitous Compendium we talked about Pierre Bonnard, painter and lithographer. Bonnard is likely to have been acquainted with Whistler around 1898. His painting has been compared to Whistler’s, in its suggestion of uncertainty. Ideas on the vagueness and incompleteness of consciousness were popular at the time in the literature of Proust and the major French symbolist poet, Stéphane Mallarmé.

Wapping

James Abbott McNeil Whistler was an American born in Lowell, Massachusetts – about 100 miles from Portland, Maine.  He lived in Paris in the second half of the 1850s and London in 1860.

In the 1870s he painted a sequence of evening views, mostly along the Thames in London at Battersea and Chelsea, which he called ‘Nocturnes’. They are still, minimal evocations of twilight, the broad sweeps of the brush interrupted only by spots and sparkles of yellow light, or the silhouette of a distant building

‘Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea’ (1871), James Abbott McNeill Whistler [Tate, London]
But he was interested in subject matter – his early pictures of the Thames waterfront at Wapping are full of local incident, and he was a prolific etcher, making prints that record the life of the riverside.

The Lime Burner (1859)

Some are in the collection of the Portland Museum of Art, and his portrait Miss Florence Leyland (c.1873) is currently on display.

One of his most famous portraits: Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1871) is in the  Musee d’Orsay, Paris.

Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1

Whistler made a point of acting out his opposition to the establishment, he dressed as a dandy and wrote and spoke provocatively on art. When Ruskin accused him of being a ‘coxcomb’ who had asked ‘two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’ when he exhibited his Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket (1875), [Detroit Institute of Arts]. Whistler took offence and sued. He was famously awarded a farthing (one quarter of an old penny) damages, but he was financially ruined by the costs.

Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket (1872)

In the 1880s, Whistler’s pupil and etching assistant was Walter Richard Sickert, an artist whose later association with Degas brought to the London art world his own form of Impressionism and equally importantly, the introduction of ordinary people and urban scenes as subjects, and so it is to Sickert that we will turn next time for Part 10 of the Doctor’s Dozen.

Ennui (c.1914), Walter Sickert [Tate]

Part 8: Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

As we continue to roll around the clock face that constitutes the Doctor’s Dozen series on the Serendipitous Compendium we find ourselves moving back across the Atlantic to mainland Europe, and an astonishing artist named Pierre Bonnard. Last time we considered the talents of Larry Rivers, who many consider as the first true American Pop artist. But his work owed a debt to Bonnard whose compositions he studied and whose style he very much admired.

Pierre Bonnard was a French painter and printmaker, as well as a founding member of the Post-Impressionist group of avant-garde painters Les Nabis.

Self-portrait (c. 1889), Pierre Bonnard [Private Collection]
Bonnard preferred to work from memory, using drawings as a reference, and his paintings are often characterized by a dreamlike quality.

‘Two Dogs in a Deserted Street’ (1894), Pierre Bonnard [National Gallery of Art, Washington DC]
The intimate domestic scenes, for which he is perhaps best known, often include his wife, Marthe de Meligny.

‘The Bath’ (1925), Pierre Bonnard [Tate, London]
Described as “the most thoroughly idiosyncratic of all the great twentieth-century painters”, what characterises his work are the unusual vantage points of his compositions. These paintings rely less on traditional modes of pictorial structure than voluptuous colour, poetic allusions and visual wit.

‘Coffee’ (1915), Pierre Bonnard [Tate London]
His often complex compositions—typically of sunlit interiors and gardens populated with friends and family members—are both narrative and autobiographical.

‘Paysage du Midi et deux enfants’ (1916-1918), Pierre Bonnard [Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto]
There’s an interesting link to another artist which will lead us to our next chapter. Pierre Bonnard, as well as being a painter was also a lithographer, and records suggest he is likely to have been acquainted with the American James Abbott McNeill Whistler around 1898.  A number of lithographs from this period are in the Portland Museum of Art, Maine.

‘Street Corner’ (c. 1987), Pierre Bonnard [Met]
Bonnard’s painting has been compared to Whistler’s, in its suggestion of uncertainty. In fact ideas on the vagueness and incompleteness of consciousness were popular at the time as espoused by the contemporary literature of Proust and Mallarmé. So we will follow this thread and see where it takes us!

 

‘Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea’ (1871), James Abbott McNeill Whistler [Tate, London]