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Whistler and Cassatt: Americans Abroad
Views of Venice, London, and Paris by American artists James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Mary Cassatt recall the romance of Europe in nearly 100 prints and drawings from the BMA's outstanding collection of works on paper. Whistler and Cassatt: Americans Abroad, on view from June 11 through October 12, 2003, reveals the influence of Europe on these two expatriate artists and commemorates the centennial of the death of Whistler.
"Artists have long traveled to study, see the work of other artists, and absorb the ambience of foreign locales," said Susan Dackerman, BMA Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs. "Whistler and Cassatt were influenced by some of the most important European artists and art critics of their day to illustrate aspects of modern life not previously represented in art."
Whistler was one of the most innovative artists of the 19th century and, like many great painters of his generation, a dedicated printmaker. On view are some of his best-known prints, drawn from the BMA's collection of works by the artist, one of the finest in the nation. The highlight is 30 beautiful vignettes of Venetian canals and doorways from Whistler's series "Etchings of Venice," considered his most inspired and influential work. Also included are examples from Whistler's first series of etchings called the "French Set," which features prints of people and scenes that he observed during his walking tour of France and Germany, as well as selections from his most famous series of etchings, the "Thames Set," depicting life and work on the river and its wharves.
While many of Whistler's prints represent European locales and their inhabitants, most of Cassatt's prints portray more intimate, domestic scenes. Cassatt is best known for her depictions of mothers and their children, and the exhibition will include numerous examples of these beloved works. She created her most experimental prints in association with Edgar Degas, who invited her to join the Impressionists in 1879. Examples of several of these works, tonal etchings that portray her family members in domestic interiors and women in Parisian settings, will be featured. Also on display will be four impressions of colored prints -- The Bath, The Coiffure, The Guitar, and Maternal Caress -- all part of a popular series of etchings that portray women engaged in the activities of their daily lives. The BMA is recognized as having one of the most important collections of works by Cassatt in the country.
Whistler and Cassatt: Americans Abroad is curated by Susan Dackerman, BMA Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs.
James Abbott McNeil Whistler (1834-1903)
Whistler's views of France, Britain, and Italy were eagerly collected by art patrons, many of whom were American and interested in depictions of exotic and foreign locations. One of the most ardent collectors of Whistler's prints was Baltimore expatriate George A. Lucas, a family friend of the artist as a youth. The two men attended West Point together for a brief period, and both ended up leaving America at different times to spend the rest of their lives in Europe. The Lucas collection is a remarkable part of the BMA's extensive holdings of works on paper, which includes an exceptionally rich collection of Whistler prints.
Whistler, born in Lowell, Massachusetts, worked as a Navy cartographer and etcher after failing out of West Point Academy in 1854. He then traveled abroad to study painting in Paris and London. In Paris, he encountered artists that would influence his work, including Gustave Courbet and Henri Fantin-Latour, who helped him to hone his Realist style. During the 1860s, he experimented with figure compositions based on Japanese art and Aestheticism, only to turn to landscapes the following decade. In the 1880s he returned to portraiture and acted as an important link to the avant-garde artistic worlds of Europe, Britain, and America. He is recognized for his innovative paintings and drawings that manipulate color and mood for their own sake and for his mastery of etching.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Like Whistler, Cassatt also was acquainted with collector George Lucas, and many of the prints in the BMA's collection are inscribed with personal dedications from the artist to him. The Museum's rich holdings of Cassatt prints was supplemented by acquisitions made by curator, and later Museum director, Adelyn Breeskin, who was the most prominent Cassatt scholar of her time. In 1948, she compiled the first catalogue raisonné of the artist's prints.
Cassatt is best known for her Impressionist paintings and colored etchings that depict domestic scenes. She was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a family that offered little encouragement to her artistic desires. While studying abroad in Paris, she met artist Edgar Degas, who invited her to exhibit with the Impressionists. In the 1890s she discovered Japanese prints, which influenced bolder color in her works and led her to her experiment with aquatint and drypoint. By 1912, she was almost blind and forced to abandon her work, yet she continued to teach young artists. Cassatt is also known for advising Americans to acquire the work of fellow Impressionists Degas and Manet.
Exhibition description by Susan Dackerman, December 10, 2002:
Throughout history artists have traveled abroad to study, see the work of other artists, and absorb the ambience of foreign locales. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Paris was the artistic center of the western world and consequently, many European and American artists migrated there. Among them were James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) in 1856 and Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) in 1866. This exhibition will focus on the prints of Whistler and Cassatt who both were prolific printmakers. Whistler made over 450 etchings and 170 lithographs while Cassatt produced over 220 etchings and drypoints. This exhibition includes 60 prints by Whistler and 35 by Cassatt.
Whistler was acquainted with printmaking from his childhood. The husband of his stepsister, Francis Seymour Haden, introduced him to the prints of Rembrandt and other seventeenth-century Dutch etchers. After a walking tour of the Rhineland in 1858, Whistler produced his first series of etchings, called the "French Set." It includes eight prints of various people and scenes that he observed during his stay in Paris and his time traveling. The following year, Whistler moved to London where he remained for most of his life. That year he produced one of his most famous series of etchings, the "Thames Set," which comprises sixteen depictions of the river, its wharves, and its denizens. After the success of his other series of etchings, the Fine Art Society commissioned him in 1880 to make a set of twelve etchings of Venice. In fact he made fifty etchings while he was there and the "Etchings of Venice" are some of his most beautiful and important printed works. The exhibition will include examples from each of these important series, as well as portrayals of other subjects and sites.
His depictions of French, British, and Italian sites were eagerly collected by art patrons, many of whom were American and interested in depictions of exotic and foreign locations. Two of the most ardent American collectors of Whistler's prints were the expatriate George Lucas and the Philadelphian James Claghorne, whose collection was purchased en masse by the Baltimore railroad tycoon, T. Harrison Garrett. Both collections have become part of the permanent collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, which has exceptionally rich holdings of prints by the artist. In many cases the BMA has more than one impression of an image. This diversity of impressions makes apparent Whistler's aesthetic sensibilities and working process. Like Rembrandt whose prints he admired, he "individualized" impressions by using an assortment of papers (including Japanese papers), by employing a range of shades of ink (mostly blacks and browns), and by varying the placement and amount of ink he applied to the copperplates for printing. Through the discriminating application and wiping of the ink from the plates, Whistler achieved an array of tonal effects, varying the character of different impressions.
After arriving in Paris in 1866, Cassatt, like Whistler, traveled extensively through Europe studying the work of other artists. She copied paintings in the museums and churches of Italy, Spain, and northern Europe, with a particular interest in the works of Velazquez and Rubens. In 1879, Degas invited Cassatt to join the Impressionists and she exhibited her work in the Impressionist exhibitions through 1886. Cassatt executed her most experimental prints during her years of association with Degas. These tonal etchings primarily depict her family members within domestic interiors and women in Parisian settings such as the theater or opera. In 1891, she had her first individual exhibition of her color prints. The color etchings portray women engaged in the activities of their daily lives, such as riding the bus, writing letters, and being fitted for a dress. The exhibition will include impressions of the colored prints: The Bath, The Coiffure, and The Maternal Caress, all from 1891. While many of Whistler's prints depict various European locales and their inhabitants, most of Cassatt's prints portray more intimate, domestic scenes. Cassatt is best known for her depictions of mothers and their children. The exhibition will include numerous examples of these works.
Like Whistler, Cassatt also was acquainted with the collector George Lucas. Many of the prints in the BMA's collection are inscribed with personal dedications from Lucas to Cassatt. The extensive holdings of Cassatt prints here at the BMA are also the result of the museum's first director, Adelyn Breeskin's, scholarly efforts. In 1948, she compiled the first catalogue raisonné of the artist's prints. As with the BMA's Whistler's prints, the collection includes multiple copies of some images. Cassatt also "individualized" prints through different inking and printing techniques, as well as by the addition of color.
Whistler and Cassatt: Americans Abroad will explore how the resettlement of these two artists in European
cities influenced their work. Besides exposing them to centuries-long traditions
of artistic production in their surroundings, it also put them in touch
with some of the most important contemporary artists and art critics of
their day. These colleagues and critics helped fashion their choice of subject
matter, turning their attention to aspects of modern life that had not previously
been subjects of artistic representation such as the working world around
the Thames and domestic scenes of women. Their association with Parisian
artists also influenced the style in which these scenes were presented.
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