National Academy Museum

and School of Fine Arts



May 1 - June 26, 1998


James McNeill Whistler

Maude Standing, c. 1873, 9 x 5 15/16 inches, etching

Collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art

The 1870s was a turbulent decade for Whistler. A dispute with one of his patrons and a lawsuit against the critic John Ruskin left the artist bankrupt. He returned to printmaking hoping it would help his to recoup his losses. In 1879, the Fine Arts Society commissioned Whistler to etch twelve plates of Venice during a three-month stay in the Italian city. Instead, the artist stayed for over a year and produced fifty etchings, annoying the Society with his slow return and constant demands for more money. Refusing to turn his plates over to a commercial printer, Whistler spent nearly a decade printing an edition of the Society's twelve etchings, known as the "First Venice Set." Twenty-six additional plates were independently published as the "Second Venice Set" in 1886.

Today the etchings of Venice are considered among Whistler's most inspired and influential works, though at the time many critics thought them sketchy and unfinished. Ignoring the usual tourist sites ofthe city, Whistler chose to portray the unexpected Venice in vignettes of obscure canals and doorways. The effects of light and shadow on the city's buildings and water become magical in such etchings as Nocturne and Palaces, which are included in the exhibition.

Like etching, lithography was rediscovered as an artistic medium in the late nineteenth century, and Whistler, who first took up lithography in 1878, was a central figure in the revival. Two of the artist's first and most successful lithographs are view of the Thames made in 1878, Limehouse and Nocturne - The River at Buttersea, drawn by Whistler directly on cumbersome lithographic stones while he sat in a boat on the river. In his later lithographs of the 1890s, he experimented with the newly developed transfer paper, which he could carry with him and use as he would a sketchbook. Though transferred later to the stone, Whistler's sketches retained the spontaneity of the original drawings. Among the later lithographs on view is The Red House, Paimpol of 1893, one of only seven rare color lithographs made by the artist.

Whistler: Impressions of an American Abroad - Etchings and Lithographs from the Carnegie Museum of Art also includes a set of etchings executed in Amsterdam in 1889, Whistler's last major works in the medium. Differing from the atmospheric tones ofthe Venice etchings, the Amsterdam prints are covered with fine cross-hatching that defines the city's buildings and canals. These late works hint at abstraction more than any other prints of the period.

Whistler's masterful prints were greatly admired by collectors during his lifetime, and they helped produce an abiding interest in collecting prints for their own sake that persists even today. The first Whistler prints collected by the Carnegie Museum of Art were acquired between 1913 and 1919 and included nearly all his early lithographs, many of which were printed in small editions and subsequently became very rare. Over the course of the next several decades, the museum acquired a representative collection, spanning Whistler's entire printmaking career.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated booklet that includes an essay by Linda Batis and the checklist.


Whistler: Impressions of an American Abroad - Etchings and Lithographs from the Carnegie Museum of Art is organized by the Carnegie Museum of Art and The American Federation of Arts. It is a project of ART ACCESS II, a program of the AFA with major support from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.




The exhibition's tour, coordinated by Marie-Therese Brincard, senior curator of exhibitions at the AFA, features six venues in the United States and Canada: the Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa FL (November 23, 1997 - January 11, 1998), the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, FL (February 6 - April 3, 1998), the National Academy Museum, New York, NY (May 1 - June 26, 1998), the Musee du Quebec, Quebec, Canada (July 25 - September 20, 1998), the Cummer Museum of Art, Jacksonville, FL (October 16 - December 11, 1998), and the Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, CA (January 15 - March 15, 1999).

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2007 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.