Sunday, March 4, 2012

Whistler, James Abbott McNeill

Sea and Rain, variations in violet and green
Oil on canvas
510 x 734 mm
The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Oil painting on canvas portraying a person walking along a foggy beach. With its delicate veils of color, the sea and shore are conveyed through subdued horizontal bands of thinly applied paint and are seen through an obscuring screen of rain and mist.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) was an American-born, British-based artist, active mainly in England. He made copies in the Louvre, acquired a lasting admiration for Velázquez, and became a devotee of the cult of the Japanese print and oriental art and decoration in general. As a leading proponent of the credo "art for art's sake", he walked his own path from the Realism of Courbet to an aesthetic approach. Egotistical, abrasive, and yet extremely talented, he stands as an isolated figure in art history, never directly associated with a specific style or school of painting. As a result, Whistler's work has in modern times rarely received the attention it deserves.

Whistler's art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, while his public persona was combative. Finding a parallel between painting and music, he titled many of his paintings "arrangements", "harmonies", and "nocturnes", emphasizing the primacy of tonal harmony.