Masters: Whistler's Mark

15 Oct 2007

0707whis1_600x398This expatriate American turned away from realism to create an art of stylish and ethereal beauty, ably represented in his drawings.

by John A. Parks

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Crouching Figure in The
White Symphony:
Three Girls

1869-1870, chalk on brown
paper, 10 5/8 x 10¾.
Collection the Freer +
Sackler Galleries,
Washington, DC.
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Black Lion Wharf
1859, etching,
5 1/2? x 8 1/2.

In a dazzling and extraordinary career, James Abbott McNeill Whistler used both art and life to make the world a more beautiful and elegant place. He became famous not only as a painter but also as a dandy, a cultural provocateur, an interior designer, an author, an illustrator, a lover of many women, an adventurous—but not always successful—businessman, an outrageous self-promoter, and a world-class talker. It was a journey marked by enormous changes and holding many contradictions.

Whistler began as a realist but gradually developed a stylish and elegant tonal impressionism, underpinned by an almost classical sense of composition. An avowed aesthete who eventually made paintings of enormous delicacy and suggestiveness, he is most widely remembered for his extremely severe and highly organized painting of his mother. Seen as too avant-garde as a young artist, he became regarded as quite safe and conservative late in life and was showered with honors and commissions. Bankrupt and financially disgraced in his 40s, he bounced back to become a wealthy and respected member of society. Whistler was an American but spent a good portion of his youth in Russia and never returned to his native land after the age of 21. His acquaintances ranged from the very top to the very bottom of the social order, cultivating minor criminals as well as aristocrats, seamstresses and society ladies, penniless artists and wealthy business magnates. He was a brilliant conversationalist whose wit so impressed the young Oscar Wilde that he modeled much of his style on the older man. Criticized by his peers in his youth for appearing to do almost no work, Whistler left behind a vast body of paintings, drawings, and prints. His innovations in etching and pastel drawing place him as one of the great practitioners in the history of both arts. All of this, and much more, was packaged into a man who stood just 5 feet 4 inches tall, topped by a mass of black curly hair and gifted with a pair of large dark eyes that gazed out at the world with a beguiling humor. As with many artists, Whistler's drawings often provide us with a far more personal and intimate glimpse into his life and creative evolution than do the paintings. The earliest examples date from his childhood, and that is where we will begin.

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Draped Figure
1866-1869, chalk on
brown paper, 15 x
5 7/8. Collection The
Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York,
New York.
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An Artist in His Studio
1855-1856, graphite,
pen, brown and black
ink, on cream wove
paper, 9 3/16 diameter.
Collection the
Freer Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC.

Whistler was born in 1834 in Lowell, Massachusetts, the son of a military engineer. When he was 9 years old his father was given a position by the czar of Russia to oversee the construction of the St. Petersburg-Moscow Railway, and the family moved to Russia for six years. Already an avid drawer, the young Whistler was allowed to attend drawing classes at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. A self-portrait from 1845 shows an already remarkable control of form and light with a precociously sophisticated handling of features, line, and weight. Only the awkward rendering of the collar reminds us that this is the work of a young boy.

Whistler's family returned to America upon completion of the railroad but not before spending some time in England, where the artist's half-sister, Deborah, had married the young English surgeon Seymour Hayden. Hayden, an avid amateur etcher and scientist with extensive social connections, was later to provide Whistler with an entrance into English society.

Whistler followed in his father's footsteps by enrolling at West Point. Cadets were obliged to attend drawing classes where they copied from a stock of drawings and prints by masters such as J.M.W. Turner, Rembrandt, and others. Whistler's copies were handsome and professional, but the artist became more famous among his friends for his lively caricatures of army life. In Mathematics his pen brilliantly captures posture and situation in a few strokes, while Dress Parade sums up the strutting and preening stances favored by the young soldiers. Many other small sketches from this period, mostly in pen-and-ink, show the artist's growing command of gesture and posture and his ability to exaggerate it for dramatic effect, a talent that was to serve him in good stead later on.

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The Lily
1870/1872, chalk and
pastel
on brown paper, 10 7/8 x
7. Collection the Fine
Arts Museums of San
Francisco, San Francisco,
California.
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Dress Parade
1852, graphite, pen, brown
ink, and wash on brown paper
mounted on card,
5 x 3 5/16.
Collection The
Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York,
New York.

Unfortunately, neither the artist's brilliant drawing skills nor the fluent French he had acquired while in St. Petersburg could keep Whistler at the academy. He was dismissed for failing chemistry and threatened by his family with a career in shipbuilding. Desperate, he went to Washington and found a job making maps with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Although he only kept this post for a few months, Whistler learned the art of etching there, sometimes decorating the rather dull maps with lively figures in the margins. Bored by the work, Whistler decided that he would go to Paris and become an artist. His family agreed to provide him with a small stipend, and he moved to Europe permanently in September of 1855.

In Paris Whistler immediately plunged himself into La Vie Bohéme, a lifestyle of poverty, free love, and art-making that had already been glamorized by the publication of Henri Murger's collection of short stories Scènes de la Vie de Bohéme in 1845. The drawing An Artist in His Studio shows the young Whistler in an almost archetypal garret surrounded by artists' materials, statuettes, a mahlstick, a book on Fuseli, a portfolio, and all the scattered detritus of youthful living.

Whistler's attention to the detail of ordinary life, it turned out, was very much in keeping with some of the leading thinking of the day. Early 19th-century art had been dominated by a competition between Classicism and Romanticism. By the 1840s, however, critics such as Baudelaire in Paris and John Ruskin in London were writing about the importance of painting the world as it was, and they encouraged artists to get involved in the appearances of day-to-day life. Realism was in the air. The most audacious of the artists who followed this path was Gustave Courbet, whose powerfully convincing and highly original compositions were already exerting an influence. Courbet was the hero for many young artists, including Whistler's new friends Henri Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros. Whistler settled down to study in the studio of Charles Gleyre, a classical painter, and spent a good deal of time making copies in the Louvre. But he was also an indefatigable sketcher of the world around him. In Les Côtes à Dieppe, for instance, Whistler presents a broad view encompassing a huge variety of figures strolling beneath the cliffs. Here he skillfully varies the weight and density of the line to create a marvelous sense of depth and airiness in the panorama.

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The Thames
1872-1875, chalk and
pastel on brown paper, 7 x
10¾. Collection
Indiana University Art
Museum, Bloomington,
Indiana.
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Mathematics
1852, pen and brown
ink on beige wove paper
laid down on card, 2¾ x
1 7/8?. Collection The
Metropolitan Museum of
Art, New York,
New York.

In 1857 Whistler undertook a walking and sketching tour, during which he developed his skills of observation. The pencil drawing A Street Scene brings the complex space and texture of a village street to life with swift economy. A more finished watercolor, The Kitchen, recreates a well-organized interior in which an old lady works at the window in a deep space of bare walls and stark cupboards, all conjured with a few strokes of pencil and brush. A more ambitious situation is taken on in Gambling Salon at Baden-Baden, where a huge crowd of people throng around the gaming tables. In all these sketches it is important to note how sensitive the artist is to the power of suggestion—his willingness to understate detail and downplay the acute description of individual faces.

From his sketching trips Whistler put together his first published set of etchings, known as the French Set, which was printed in 1858. Whistler's plates, such as Reading by Lamplight, show him hovering between a studied buildup of chiaroscuro through elaborate hatching and an entirely more fluid, linear approach, as though he is not quite sure whether he wants to make the form feel really solid or have it evaporate into the surrounding air.

Whistler executed the first of his mature paintings on a trip to England late in 1858. At the Piano [not shown] is a striking and bold composition showing his half-sister Deborah and her 10-year-old daughter in the most genteel of settings. Although rejected by the Salon of 1859, the picture garnered praise from Courbet himself. Very soon Whistler and Courbet were painting together, and the young American found himself ushered into the center of the avant-garde of Paris. The following year At the Piano was accepted by the Royal Academy in London and hung "on the line." This success, and the generally more accepting atmosphere for innovative art in London, convinced Whistler to move his career there. In addition, his brother-in-law was in a position to help him get introductions and commissions. Whistler left the Bohemian life for good. In the future his ambitions were generally for success and recognition of a quite worldly kind. These were to be granted eventually but not before a very considerable struggle.

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Nocturne: Battersea
Bridge

1872-1873, chalk and
pastel on brown paper
mounted on card,
7 1/8 x 11. Collection
the Freer + Sackler
Galleries, Washington, DC.
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The Kitchen
1858, graphite,
gouache, and watercolor
on beige laid paper,
12 7/16 x 8¾.
Collection the Freer +
Sackler Galleries,
Washington, DC.

In the early 1860s Whistler began an intimate relationship with his model Joanna Hiffernan, a beautiful Irish redhead who posed for his famous painting Symphony in White, No 1: The White Girl. The idea of making a connection between musical composition and the visual arts was not exactly new. Murger included conversations about it in Scànes de la Vie Bohàme and various other critics had floated the idea. Using musical titles, however, allowed Whistler to draw attention to the abstract and self-contained nature of the work. This idea began to exert a greater and greater influence upon him.

Whistler drew his beautiful mistress many times, and his Sleeping Woman shows his growing freedom of technique. Here the chalk line is built in a lively and fluid manner so that the image emerges, almost ghostlike, from the dark space. The years 1860 and 1861 also found Whistler working down by the Thames with his etching needle, still following his desire to produce a realistic and candid view of the world. Here he took on the difficult and somewhat grim world of dockworkers and shipping hands as they toiled along the fetid mud banks of the Thames and the crumbling, rat-infested warehouses that stretched for miles eastward of the tower. In works such as Black Lion Wharf Whistler resolved the buildings and figures to bold graphic elements and showed a willingness to present as a finished image a work in which some sections were left blank or understated.

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Cartoon of Rich and
Poor Peacocks

1876, chalk and wash
on brown paper, pricked
for transfer, 5' 11 1/4" x
12' 93/4". Collection
Hunterian Art Gallery at
the University of Glasgow,
Glasgow, Scotland.
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A Street Scene
1857-1858, graphite on
off-white wove paper,
9¾ x 5¾. Collection the
Freer + Sackler Galleries,
Washington, DC.

About this time another important influence entered Whistler's world: the appearance of Japanese art. Whistler began to collect Japanese porcelain and prints, items that had slowly become available after Commodore Perry's opening of Japan in 1854. The artist quickly realized that in Japanese art there was no distinction between decorative and fine arts, and he saw that the aim of decorative art was, in effect, to aesthetisize the whole of life. In Study for Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, the artist showed the curious and perhaps uneasy amalgam he made of Western and Japanese art. Three obviously Japanese ladies are shown disporting themselves on a balcony. But the view is a coal-fired factory on the south bank of the Thames, a distinctly unglamorous prospect. Nor could Whistler ever bring himself to dispense with the laws of perspective; his pictures never take on the elegant, indeterminate space of Japanese art. Instead, we are presented with an unlikely meeting of Japanese beauty and the gritty reality of industrial London. It was a contradiction that took the artist some time to resolve. The sketch In the Studio began to indicate how this might be achieved. Here a model reclines on a hammock with a rather soupy space around her created by brushstrokes of gray over a ground of brown paper. Various Japanese fans are indicated on the wall. Although perspective is not abandoned, it is obscured by this rather atmospheric effect. Soon Whistler would begin looking for such effects in nature and would find them readily at hand in the foggy environs of the Thames Valley. Meanwhile, in his paintings he pursued the idea of a single figure elegantly posed, and many of the drawings appear to be studies for them. In Draped Figure, for example, he used chalk on brown paper to convey a very classical pose. His many drawings of figures in classical draperies were probably inspired by the work of his friend Albert Joseph Moore, who produced much more painstaking studies of such subjects while exploring some rather adventurous color possibilities. In 1867 Whistler wrote to his friend Fantin-Latour to say that he now rejected the realism of Courbet and expressed the wish that he had studied instead with a more classical master. It appears that Whistler now felt closer to the simplification and artificiality of classical art. By infusing classical figures with a distinctly Japanese flavor he now managed to avoid the tired stereotypes of that kind of art and ventured into new territory.

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Nocturne in Black and
Gold: The Falling
Rocket

1875, oil on wood, 23¾
x 18 3/8. Collection the
Detroit Institute of Arts,
Detroit, Michigan.
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Gambling Salon at
Baden-Baden

1858, graphite and
charcoal on off-white
laid paper, 8 11/16 x 10
9/16. Collection the
Freer Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC.

Meanwhile Whistler's social connections were paying off and portrait commissions began to come in. Nelly is a study for one member of the wealthy Ionides family, a charmingly achieved sketch that hovers between suggestion and rendering. Later in the 1860s Whistler was introduced to F. R. Leyland, a dynamic shipping magnate from Liverpool, who was intent on cutting a figure in London and who shared the artist's passion for collecting Japanese porcelain. Leyland commissioned several large paintings from Whistler, and the drawings for The Three Girls show how assiduously the artist prepared for such an assignment. Crouching Figure in The White Symphony: Three Girls is executed in chalk on brown paper. Here the artist was eager to establish a powerful graphic outline for the figure while at the same time securing a sense of light and solidity in the whole painting. He still hadn't really resolved the opposing pulls of flat design and three-dimensional representation, but the tension between the two would remain central to his work. Another beautiful drawing, The Lily, shows a similar challenge. Here we see the arrival of the butterfly, a symbol that Whistler would eventually use as a signature, albeit with a sting in its tail. The drawings of this period were marked by an increasing delicacy in touch and a growing sensitivity to surface. One of his students, Otto Henry Bacher, recalled that "delicacy seemed to him the keynote of everything, carrying more fully than anything else his use of the suggestion of tenderness, neatness, and nicety."?

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Venetian Scene
1879-1880, chalk and
pastel on brown paper,
11 5/8 x 7 15/16.
Collection the New
Britain Museum of
American Art, New
Britain, Connecticut.
0707whis26_600x338
Les Côtes à Dieppe
1857, pencil on
off-white wove paper,

4 1/16 x 7 1/16. Collection the Freer +
Sackler Galleries,
Washington, DC.

In the early 1870s Whistler at last came upon the subject matter that was to solve so many of his problems. The Thames shows a view of the water obscured by a murky fog, in which the simplified shapes hang in a deep and tranquil space. Whistler soon began to make drawings of the river at night with its soupy atmosphere and twinkling lights. Nocturne: Battersea Bridge, one of the earliest attempts, shows the artist using a dark-brown paper with a few simple blues and violets, together with a yellow and an orange, to create an entire world of night. Whistler did nearly all such drawings, and the paintings based on them, from memory. He had long been interested in a memory technique taught by the French master Lecoq de Boisbaudran, in which students were required to study a subject carefully, memorize it, and then make a painting of it without further reference. Whistler realized that working this way inevitably led to simplification and released him from the onerous task of being true to life. Often he would take a friend with him on his excursions, spend some time studying a scene, and then, turning his back on it, he would recite exactly what he saw. The friend would correct him if he made a mistake, and then he'd turn back again and study the scene until he was able to describe it completely. Only then would he return to the studio to make drawings. Whistler's interest in the effects of fog and night are obviously highly evocative, but they also provided him with a way of making a painting that is acceptably representational while also having a life of its own as an aesthetically beautiful object. He arranged his compositions in an almost abstract manner, carefully balancing weights and intervals to achieve an almost classical sense of repose.

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Sunset, in Red
and Brown

1879-1880, chalk and
pastel on brown paper,
11 13/16 x 71 5/16.
Collection the Freer +
Sackler Galleries,
Washington, DC.
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Reading by Lamplight
1858, etching and
drypoint printed in black
ink on ivory laid paper,
6 13/16 x 4 9/16.
Collection The New York
Public Library, New York,
New York.

Whistler's growing interest in the decorative world put him in the forefront of the Aesthetic Movement, a loose description for a number of artists at the time who were drawn to the idea that art can beautify and transform all aspects of life. They believed that art was required to serve no purpose and had no moral dimension. Rather, its sole role was to be beautiful. It was this idea that led Whistler to revolutionize the way that art was displayed. Instead of hanging his exhibitions thickly from floor to ceiling, as was the custom, he elected to hang the galleries with a single line of well-spaced paintings. He had the space painted out in light colors, often yellow and white, and sometimes ordered color-coordinated uniforms for the commissionaires at the door.

Whistler was also quick to realize that the task of making the world beautiful offered certain business opportunities, and he was very taken with the success of William Morris as a decorator and designer in the 1870s. Whistler briefly began his own design company, offering light interiors, shimmering fabrics, and a lot of Japanese porcelain. His Cartoon of Rich and Poor Peacocks is a working drawing for his most famous and most successful interior scheme. His wealthy patron, F. R. Leyland, was decorating a grand house in London and called in Whistler to consult on the dining room, which was to house his porcelain collection as well as a painting by Whistler himself. The artist saw his chance to shine and conceived a grand scheme for the room. The drawing shown above is the design for the end wall, based on Japanese models. This is Whistler's flowing line at its very best, freed at last from the requirement of perspective and creating glorious movement as well as rich decorative surfaces. Whistler took charge of the project while Leyland was away for the summer and then earned his patron's ire when he invited a group of critics to look at the finished product. Leyland paid only half the fee asked by Whistler and banned him from the house forever. In the furious correspondence that flew around this affair, Whistler predicted that Leyland would only be remembered by posterity because he was the person who commissioned the Peacock Room. He turned out to be quite right. The room is preserved whole in the Freer + Sackler Galleries, in Washington, DC.

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San Rocco
1879-1880, chalk and
pastel on brown paper,
11 13/6 x 6 3/8.
Collection the
Boston Public Library
Print Department, Boston,
Massachusetts.
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Sleeping Woman
ca. 1863, chalk and
charcoal on
cream wove paper laid
down on card, 9 13/16 x
6 15/16. Collection
National Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC.

Most of Whistler's drawings done toward the end of the 1870s were sketches for portraits—he seemed to be busy with commissions and generally cut a lively figure on the London scene. He also exhibited his nocturnes, and it was the vitriolic review given to one of these by John Ruskin, the most eminent critic of the era, that gave rise to the famous lawsuit. The painting in question was titled Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, and showed a loosely painted rendition of fireworks falling over the Cremorne Gardens, a well-known pleasure garden in London. Ruskin wrote of the painting, "I have seen and heard much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."? Whistler, who was never one to shy away from a fight, and no doubt sensing good publicity, decided to sue the critic for libel. Although it seemed like a personal squabble, the trial was really a confrontation between two very different points of view. Since the late 1840s, Ruskin had championed an essentially realist approach to art, holding that the close study of any part of nature would reveal the presence of the divine. In this view the realist enterprise has a very moral dimension. Whistler laid out a very different point of view in his "Ten O'Clock Lecture" delivered in 1885. "That Nature is always right, is an assertion, artistically, as untrue, as it is one whose truth is universally taken for granted. Nature is very rarely right, to such an extent even, that it might almost be said that Nature is usually wrong: that is to say, the condition of things that shall bring about the perfection of harmony worthy of a picture is rare, and not common at all."

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The Little Back Canal
1879-1880, chalk and
pastel on brown paper
mounted on paper,
10 13/16 x 8.
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Study for Variations
in Flesh Colour and
Green: The Balcony

1864-1865, watercolor
and gouache on buff
wove paper, 24¾ x
9 11/16. Collection
Hunterian Art Gallery
at the University
of Glasgow, Glasgow,
Scotland.

At the trial, the public was treated to a lively debate on the nature of quality and value in art, although Ruskin himself could not attend, having recently suffered a nervous collapse. Whistler drew applause from the courtroom when he asserted that he did not ask 200 guineas for the work of two days but "for the knowledge of a lifetime." The artist won the suit but was awarded only a farthing in damages and no costs. And his legal costs were enormous. Adding to his financial woes was his rising debt for the building of his White House, in Chelsea, a palatial structure that had run far over budget. Late in 1879 he was declared bankrupt, and the bailiffs moved in, seizing paintings and treasured possessions. Whistler was shaken and humiliated but he was far from finished. He obtained a commission from the Fine Art Society to produce a set of etchings of Venice, and he gladly got himself out of London for a year.

Whistler's time in Venice was probably the most creative and most joyous period of his artistic life. The city, with its shimmering canals, thick, hazy light and splendidly rich surfaces, was perfect subject matter for the delicate, suggestive, and almost ethereal vision that Whistler was cultivating. Working on brown paper with black chalk and pastel, the artist completed more than 100 drawings during his stay. In Sunset, in Red and Brown for instance, the artist used a dark-brown paper as a foil for his delicate touches of yellow and blue to create considerable luminosity with the utmost economy. As with many of the pieces from this trip, he left a vast amount of the paper untouched. A similar strategy was followed in Venetian Scene, where a lighter red-brown paper was used for a daylight scene. Here the sky was established fully with heavy strokes of pastel while the foreground with a gondola and dockside was only lightly indicated. Some of the drawings are more evenly built up, as in San Rocco—?the entire scene of a narrow canal and bridge provided a solid cradle for the sumptuous color on the walls in the distance. In The Little Back Canal, Whistler showed off his exquisite sense of touch, deftly weaving a skein of swiftly placed lines and adding only a few delicious patches of color. In some of the drawings Whistler achieved an almost miraculous balance of realism and decorative splendor, as in San Giovanni Apostolo et Evangelista,< which left the viewer with a solid impression of decorative stonework even as one takes pleasure in the almost weightless quality of the line. Some of the drawings, particularly a set of sunsets drawn from the Riva degli Schiavoni, explore the effects of color in a more adventurous way than any of Whistler's previous work. In Salute—Sundown the artist massed a soft pink in the sky and water against a steely violet-gray in the city skyline to achieve an encompassing and quite magical light. Perhaps his most romantic drawing from Venice is Sunset: Red and Gold—The Gondolier, in which a shadowy figure is shown in the foreground of a misty sunset over San Giorgio. Here the drawing in the foreground is all tonal while the background is all color, the two worlds unified by the light pinkish brown of the paper.

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San Giovanni
Apostolo et
Evangelista

1879-1880, chalk,
charcoal, and pastel on
brown paper,
11¾ x 7 15/16.
Collection the Freer +
Sackler Galleries,
Washington, DC.
0707whis9_407x600
Nelly
1867-1870, chalk on
blue laid paper, 8 7/16 x
5 9/16. Collection the
Freer + Sackler
Galleries,
Washington, DC.

Whistler's etchings from the Venetian trip are his finest. He managed to translate the ethereal quality of his pastels into a delicate graphic line that seems to float off the page. In The Riva, No. 2 he laid out a huge sweep of buildings and sea with numerous figures to create a powerful impression of light, movement, and density. Yet when you actually examine the detail of the print there is almost nothing by way of solid information. Everything is suggested and hinted at, but nothing is really described in full. The etchings seem more like memories, quick glimpses left in the mind's eye after an exotic vacation.

Whistler returned to London late in 1880 and from then on his career proceeded on a largely successful—and always eventful—path. Although the initial reception to his Venetian etchings was lukewarm—one critic complained of—"the absence, seemingly, of drawing the forms of water"—the work started to sell. Meanwhile, portrait commissions became more abundant, and the artist acquired the young and gifted Walter Sickert as a student. He also acquired the friendship of Oscar Wilde, and his studio was, more than ever, a place where a group of young brilliant artists and writers met and exchanged ideas. Whistler found himself traveling more—to the Lake District, to Paris, to Amsterdam—and completing growing numbers of watercolors.

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In the Studio
1865, watercolor and
gouache on brown paper
mounted on board, 11
5/16 x 7¼. Collection
the Detroit Institute of
Arts, Detroit, Michigan.

During the 1880s Whistler's portrait work began to increasingly concentrate on the single standing figure. Lady in Gray, painted in gouache on brown paper, shows off the artist's strategy. The model looms from a dark background while the vertical format draws attention to her posture and stance. And, as ever in Whistler's work, it is this information about the disposition of the whole body, rather than careful depiction of the face, that tells us the most about the subject. Here, the slightly haughty, self-confident and assured stylishness of the sitter are astonishingly convincing.

0707whis21_600x439
Salute—Sundown
1880, chalk and pastel
on brown paper, 7 7/8
x 10 9/16. Collection the
Hunterian Art Gallery,
the University of
Glasgow, Glasgow,
Scotland.

The story of Whistler in the late 1880s and 1890s is one of growing acclaim: medals, commissions, far-flung exhibitions and a widening circle of friends and enemies. He enjoyed sparring in the press with his critics, and he finally married, choosing Beatrice Godwin, the widow of architect E. W. Godwin. Indeed, the most moving drawings of Whistler's late years are those he did of his wife Beatrice during her long and fatal illness. His lithograph By the Balcony shows his wife enjoying some fresh air from a day bed. The graceful line captures the uncomfortable rest of the ailing woman while the deep shadow behind her head perfectly balances the suggested air and light of the cityscape beyond. This simple design eloquently suggests the struggle between life and death.

Whistler's wife died in 1896, and the artist worked somewhat fitfully for some time afterwards. He traveled disconsolately to the South Coast of England and occasionally to Europe, making watercolors and sketches. Awards and honors continued to be heaped upon him, but his most creative and productive years were behind him. Whistler died in 1903.

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Sunset: Red and Gold--The Gondolier
1880, chalk and pastel on brown paper, 7 7/8 x 10 9/16. Collection the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Lady in Gray
1883-1884, gouache on brown paper mounted on card, 7 7/8 x 10 9/16. Collection the Hunterian Art Gallery, the University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland.

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