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An alien in London: Whistler's time in England

— November 2013

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James McNeil Whistler, The Last of Old Westminster (1862), oil on canvas. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Dulwich Picture Gallery presents first major exhibition dedicated to Whistler’s time in London

On now until 12 January 2014

‘An American in London: Whistler and the Thames’ at Dulwich Picture Gallery will be the first major exhibition dedicated to American-born artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s time in the capital between 1859 and 1903. Showcasing Whistler’s scenes of London the exhibition will include paintings, etchings and drawings produced during the artist’s various residences and will present over 70 objects to provide a fascinating visual investigation into Whistler's depiction of the Thames and Victorian London during a transitional period in the expatriate artist’s 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. Whistler’s superb draughtsmanship is seen in etchings such asBlack 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-burnerand the rareRatcliffe Highwayare 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 d’Orsay.

The exhibition will include 15 of Whistler’s paintings of Chelsea and the Thames River, along with 35 prints, ten rarely-seen drawings, watercolours, and pastels and will culminate in several of his famous Nocturnes including Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge (1872/1873) , one of the artist’s most critically acclaimed and widely-known paintings of Battersea Bridge, and a study ofBlack and Gold: The Fire Wheel (1893). Further exhibition highlights will include 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 public's 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 Nicholas’s Church, Chiswick.

This exhibition will feature portraits of Whistler and his patrons, bringing to life the personalities involved in this prolific period in the artist’s career. Portraits including The Artist’s 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), will be on display. The exhibition will be complemented by historical photographs hung throughout the exhibition which will help to place Whistler’s 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’ will be on display, including Rotherhithe (1860), an etching closely related to Wapping (1860–4), the innovative oil painting of the same year which features Whistler’s mistress ‘Jo’, will also be in the show. The exhibition is co-curated by Dr Margaret F. MacDonald, Professor Emerita and Honorary Professorial Research Fellow and Dr Patricia de Montfort, Lecturer, School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow. Margaret F. MacDonald was co-curator of Tate’s major 1994 exhibition: 'James McNeill Whistler'.

Loans have been secured from key lenders including the Musée d’Orsay, 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 Museum & Art Gallery. ‘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 will present the definitive examples of Whistler’s radical new aesthetic approach to the time-honoured subject of the city and river.

'An American in London: Whistler and the Thames' is kindly supported by the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, the American Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, the American Art Supporters Group, the Michael Marks Charitable Trust and Farrow and Ball. 


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