Life and Works after Venice
Following his revitalizing, extended stay abroad, James Abbott McNeill Whistler moved back to London in November of 1880. Many of the things that helped drive him out of England were no longer so troublesome like for instance the art critic John Ruskin. “As Ruskin retired into the shadows, Whistler’s figure slowly and with some few reverses at first, remerged.”[i] Even though he did not inform anyone of his plans, “The new London was prepared if not to welcome, to tolerate a resurrected Whistler.”[ii] “Whistler’s reappearance in London could not go unnoticed.”[iii] Shortly after his arrival he must have informed the Fine Art Society of his return. “He had kept his promise to the Arts Society. He had only to make prints of his etchings.”[iv] The Fine Art Society chose the dozen etchings which they originally desired from the many in his collection.
London’s Fine Art Society was pleased, however his exhibition could have been appreciated even more so by the public and by the critics. “When exhibited at the Fine Art Society in 1880, his first set of Venetian etchings was criticized for being unrepresentative of the city.”[v] The critics believed his prints did not accurately embody the setting, calling them “another crop of Mr. Whistler’s little jokes.” [vi] It is perhaps because of the negative responses that he received that some of his etchings were reworked. In his later showing of his etchings critics were more kind in their reviews, this time not complaining about the absence of completion. In The Spectator: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature. Theology, and Art the critic (who does not sign his review) states his work was “done with cleverness so great as to be almost genius... wealth and poverty, grandeur and squalor, life and death, are so strangely mingled.” [vii] The American expatriate captured a variety of different visions and points of view with his etchings, and this time around they were perceived in a different yet much better light. Finally, the public were able to appreciate Whistler’s different view of the city which he had grown to know and appreciate.
The artist’s Venetian pastels were later exhibited and luckily they were much more appreciated than his etchings. In regards to the exhibition of Whistler’s fifty three pastels … “The press was generally favourable though Punch did not forgo the opportunity to mock.”[i] Viewers of the pastels could easily dream of being in Venezia. The titles were helpful in the process of feeding the imagination as well. Almost every title for the Venice pastels is object, site or atmospheric specific.[ii] “Another critic remarked that, “Venice floating among her opal skies, or wrapped in her robes of blue and grey, is impressed on our memory by these pastels.”[iii] Due to the fact that these pastels brought about such wonderful feelings for the viewers they sold well in London.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler chose to pick up his paintbrush more frequently after his Venetian sojourn. He shifted his attention to painting portraits among other things. “In Whistler’s hands, the genre of portrait painting became a major form of artistic expression.”[iv] He even experimented with other mediums, this time making his creations in watercolor. Although he focused his time and attention less on etchings he still made an effort to produce them.
His prints consisted of streetscapes but this time carried out in London, England. He etched, palaces, stores and doorways etc. Though his styles changed once again after leaving the city of Venice, his works done during his Venetian time period left a bit of a mark, an impression on other artists.
[i] Honour, Hugh, and John Fleming. The Venetian Hours of Henry James, Whistler, and Sargent. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991. Print.53.
[ii] Getscher, Robert H. James Abbott McNeill Whistler--pastels. New York: G. Braziller, 1991.Print.31.
[iv] Spalding, Frances. Whistler. Oxford: Phaidon, 1979. Print.66.
[i] Gregory, Horace. The World of James McNeill Whistler. New York: Nelson, 1959. Print.155.
[iii] Spalding, Frances. Whistler. Oxford: Phaidon, 1979. Print.65.
[iv] Gregory, Horace. The World of James McNeill Whistler. New York: Nelson, 1959. Print.154.
[v] Spalding, Frances. Whistler. Oxford: Phaidon, 1979. Print.64.
[vii] Getscher, Robert H. James Abbott McNeill Whistler--pastels. New York: G. Braziller, 1991.Print.33.