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Whistler print exhibit on display at BYU Museum of Art

Renowned American focused much of his work on European laborers

PROVO, UTAH

James Whistler is rightfully counted among the masters of American art. But the renowned painter and printer could also be called an artist of the world because of the many lands and nations that he would call home.

James Whistler's etching "The Kitchen" captures the quiet and sometimes lonesome nature of domestic labor.
James Whistler's etching "The Kitchen" captures the quiet and sometimes lonesome nature of domestic labor. Photo: Courtesy BYU-MOA

Born in Massachusetts in 1834, Whistler moved to Russia as a child where he first learned to utilize paint, brush and canvas. Most of his formal training took place in France under the tutelage of Parisian instructors. He was greatly influenced by the Dutch masters and he would later call both London and Venice his home. He would also stay connected to his native land, studying at the U.S. Military Academy and, later, creating the White House's Peacock Room.

Along the way, he developed an artistic affinity for the working man and woman and focused his eye, brush and etching needle on the day-to-day life of regular folk. Many of his subjects are folks who earn their daily sustenance while laboring in the local fish markets or inside the walls of humble homes.

"St James Street" is one of several prints James Whistler created to document the bustle of urban England.
"St James Street" is one of several prints James Whistler created to document the bustle of urban England. Photo: Courtesy BYU-MOA

"Whistler knew that you can find art in everyday life," said museum curator Diana Turnbow.

Dozens of Whistler's etchings and prints are on display at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art. Dubbed "Fleeting Impressions: Prints by James McNeil Whistler," the exhibit works in conjunction with the Weir Family exhibit on display in a neighboring gallery at the museum. The connection makes sense. Whistler was a student of a Weir family member, Robert W. Weir.

Etchings such as "Evening, Little Waterloo" were popular among the European middle class who could afford print work.
Etchings such as "Evening, Little Waterloo" were popular among the European middle class who could afford print work. Photo: Courtesy BYU-MOA

The print exhibit, according to the museum, includes Whistler's "early impressions inspired by travel in France and Germany, his fascination with the Thames River and the working-class neighborhood of Chelsea in London and his novel perspective of the landmarks of palazzi of Venice."

"Fleeting Impressions" is divided into three sections. The first features the artist's first grouping of published etchings called the French Set. The second section includes his work from London, while the final section includes his efforts during a stay in Venice.

The creation of affordable etchings and other prints also helped bring art to a far larger audience. Many from the middle class were able to afford Whistler's prints and perhaps responded to his interest in regular folks and their familiar environs.

Perhaps it's apropos that much of Whistler's European creations would ultimately return to his North American homeland. Much of the collection on display at the BYU exhibit is owned by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Alabama.

"Fleeting Impressions" will be on display until April 7. Museum hours are Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Sunday.

For more information, visit moa.byu.edu.

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