Musée d'Orsay: Whistler (1834-1903)

Whistler (1834-1903)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
 Variations en violet et vert [Variations in Violet and Green]
 Oil on canvas
 H. 61; W. 35.5 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, bought with the aid of the Heritage Fund and the participation of Philippe Meyer, 1995
James Abbott McNeill WhistlerVariations in Violet and Green© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Thierry Le Mage
James McNeill Whistler, an acquaintance of Courbet, Manet, Fantin-Latour, Beaudelaire and Champfleury, displayed La Fille Blanche (The White Girl) in the 1863 Salon des Refusés, a painting which got almost as much public notice as Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe (Lunch on the Grass). An admirer of japonism, in characters as well as landscapes, especially in the Nocturnes, finding inspiration in Hiroshige's etchings, he was also interested in decorative art.

The exhibition held in the Musée d'Orsay displayed a series of portraits, full-size such as the famous Artist's Mother or Théodore Duret (who supported the impressionists and who was to write Whistler's biography), a portrait treated like a juxtaposition of colours resulting from long sittings. The other side of his art is landscape painting, with a preference for the juxtaposition of water and sky effects, especially with the river Thames in London. He proves to be a master of poetical allusion in his paintings, pastels and engravings.

In 1877, in an exhibition in the London Grosvenor Gallery, the famous art critic Ruskin judged imprudent the artist's asking two hundred guineas for a landscape, The Falling Rocket, which he compared to “ a pot of paint thrown at the public's face ”.While the impressionists were merely misunderstood in France, Whistler was actively ridiculed by the British public, with the exception of a few amateurs. Recognition would only come at the end of his life, especially from the American public: many loans come from American public collections.


Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr, curator of French and American paintings, National Gallery of Art (Washington), Richard Dorment, writer and critic, Geneviève Lacambre, general curator, Musée d'Orsay and Margaret F. McDonald, researcher, Whistler study centre in the Glasgow University


Exhibition catalogue
James McNeill Whistler
Tate Gallery Publications

8 February - 30 April 1995
Musée d'Orsay

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