Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Whistler: The Gentle Art of Making Etchings (Lady Lever Art Gallery)


As Whistler is part of my Art History course next year, I thought it may be beneficial to visit this exhibition, especially as it's so close and I can see my family while I'm there! There were two rooms dedicated to Whistler which felt a little out of place in the wider context of the gallery. Lady Lever's primary focus is Victorian/Pre-Raphaelite imagery, rich in colour and decoration, yet the Whistler rooms felt bare and lacking in character, if it weren't for the etchings themselves. I'm also growing increasingly weary of this trend for wall decals of quotations that relate to the exhibition. While the sentiments and the manner in which they are expressed can be lovely and relevant, to me, it feel as though they detract from the art in some way, they almost become an apology or an explanation for what it is you're attempting to experience. In this case, particularly, it assumes that the visitor will have knowledge of who George Bernard Shaw is. I certainly didn't. To most visitors, this name will mean absolutely nothing, thus whilst the sentiment itself is a tribute to Whistler's enduring popularity, many people that read it will have zero awareness as to the importance of the person that they're having shoved in their faces.

James Abbot McNeill Whistler - The Doorway detail (1879-80)

The works themselves were incredibly striking. Such delicate lines on equally delicate pieces of paper, yet they create strong and distinctive images. The act of etching itself commands enormous respect from me, I am in constant admiration of those beautifully detailed and intricate images that have been executed with the finest skill and steadiest hand. For such a labour-intensive and arduous process, it can produce, in the right hands, scenes of the utmost beauty. Particularly enticing for me was the fact that the Whistler etchings are largely from his time in Italy and thus illustrate Italian scenes - I would absolutely adore to go to Italy. The exhibition also contains images of local British scenes, which,when paired with the Italian images, creates a beautifully balanced display of at home and abroad. I especially enjoyed the miniature depictions of city and seascapes, incredibly simple yet endlessly effective and a remarkable demonstration of skill and talent.
 

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