River Life

James McNeill Whistler's Thames Prints

August 19 through October 30, 2022

On view in the Weil Graphic Arts Study Center

Overview

The American-born artist James McNeill Whistler spent most of his life, and created his distinctive paintings and prints, in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century. He was renowned for his individuality; not associated with any particular school or style, he traveled his own path in art, and is recognized as an artist whose work was a precursor of Modernism. His talents as a printmaker were revealed in his ability to distill beauty from the chaos of nature and urban life.

Whistler’s views of river life on the Thames in London were some of his earliest etchings created primarily between 1858 and 1861. These images preserve London as a seaport, the commercial capital of the Industrial Revolution. He had a special feeling for texture and the spacial relationships of waterways, ships, and architectural structures such as the Battersea Bridge. His designs suggest his knowledge of Japanese woodblock prints, and perhaps the work of the French Impressionist Edgar Degas whom he had known in Paris.

This installation of works from the MMFA’s permanent collection will feature some of Whistler’s best-known images of London’s commercial shipping areas such as Rotherhithe and Wapping. As the French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote, Whistler’s Thames is a, “wonderful tangles of rigging, yardarms and rope; farragos of fog, furnaces and corkscrews of smoke; the profound and intricate poetry of a vast capital.”

Image credits:

Hero: James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903), Limehouse, 1859, from the series, A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames (The Thames Set), etching on laid paper, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Weil, Jr., in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Wel, Sr.; Headshot: James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903), Arrangement in Gray: Portrait of the Painter, about 1872, oil on canvas, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, Bequest of Henry Glover Stevens in memory of Ellen P. Stevens and Mary M. Stevens, 34.27

Whistler was renowned for his individuality; not associated with any particular school or style, he traveled his own path in art.

Organizer

Organized by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama.

Sponsor

Support for this exhibition was provided in part by the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

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