Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Art Review - James McNeill Whistler - Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art

Let's start a new thing, #MuseumTourTuesday.

Here's a great collection of James McNeill Whistler watercolors Kimberly and I viewed last July, featured in a special exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art, in the Freer Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Library.

These are compelling examples of the decisiveness and spontaneity of the watercolor medium, and something I strive for in my own work even as an oil painter.

"Pink Note - The Novelette" • James McNeill Whistler • 1883-1884
• Watercolor on Cold-Pressed Paper • 25.3 x 15.5 cm
This is a painting of Whistler's mistress, Maud Franklin. Clearly painted rapidly, Whistler must have carefully considered the composition prior to making any marks as it works perfectly.

Notice the triangular balance between the table, the furniture behind the bed and the figure. Whistler also uses the "note of pink" in Maud's sweater to zero in on the focal point, and further enhances that area with the horizontal stripes surrounding the figure.

"Violet and Amber - Tea (Note in Opal: Breakfast)" • James McNeill Whistler • 1882-1884
• Watercolor on Cold-Pressed Paper • 25.2 x 17.6 cm

This is one of those "barely there" paintings that says so much with so little. Whistler uses a major value change to draw our eyes to the figure, but what I find fascinating is the way he painted so little in the window and tabletop areas of the painting. This gives the illusion of bright light spilling through the window with a minimal amount of effort on Whistler's part.

”Rose and Silver - Portrait of Mrs. Whibley" • James McNeill Whistler • 1895-1896
• Watercolor on Rough Brown Wove Paper • 28.2 x 18.8 cm
Another quick painting that suggests a lot of detail through it's decisive drawing. The face is expertly defined by the perfectly rendered edge of the profile. We're drawn to the face through the use of the lightest value surrounded by the dark, but also by the path created by her pink dress surrounding the dark boa she wears.

"Milly Finch” • James McNeill Whistler • 1883-1884  • Watercolor on Cold-Pressed Paper
• 29.8 x 22.5 cm
"Flower Market: Dieppe" • James McNeill Whistler • 1885
• Watercolor on Hot-Pressed Paper • 12.8 x 21 cm
In this tiny painting, Whistler again paints with a minimal amount of strokes, but deftly drives us to a clear focal point with the woman in the darker valued shawl. She is also the one surrounded by the intense colors of the flower cart, another tool used to bring our attention back to this point.

"Variations in Blue and Green" • James McNeill Whistler  • c. 1868
• Oil on Millboard Mounted to Wood Panel  • 46.9 x 61.8 cm
This last piece is actually an oil painting. I include it only to show how Whistler employed a similar approach in another medium, including the quick deft strokes of the paint, the notes of intense color, and the striped patterns to grab our attention.

Painting photos by Saunders Fine Arts.

© Patrick and Kimberly Saunders, Patrick Saunders Fine Arts, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s authors/owners is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Patrick Saunders for painted works, or to Kimberly Saunders for photographs and/or videos, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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