Whistler and Nature - the exhibition catalogue from The Fitzwilliam Museum available to buy at Museum Bookstore

Whistler and Nature

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'A collection of three long beautifully illustrated essays that look beyond his sometimes reductive self-presentation to redefine Whistler's engagement with nature' - World of Interiors

A fascinating book looking at Whistler's work from the context of his military service and his relationship with `nature at the margins'

Whistler came from a family of soldiers and engineers; his father, Major George Washington Whistler, was originally a US military engineer. Drawing and mapmaking were important components of the military training that Whistler acquired as an officer cadet at West Point Academy in 1851-4 and subsequently in the Drawing Department at the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, where he attempted to realise his father's hopes that he would make engineering or architecture his profession.

These influences in turn shaped Whistler's attitude towards nature, as expressed in works ranging from his celebrated London `Nocturnes' to his French coastal scenes - all of which were created after Whistler moved permanently to Europe in 1855. Whistler's close observation of nature and its moods underpinned his powerful and haunting visions of nineteenth-century life. His images explore the contrasts between the natural and man-made worlds: rivers and wharves, gardens and courtyards, the ideal and the naturalistic.

And his singular vision was always defined by his enduring affinity with the makers of railways, bridges and ships, the cornerstones of Victorian wealth and trade. Influenced by Rembrandt, Whistler's early etchings of London are notable for their focus on line and topographical accuracy. From the 1860s, his enthusiasm for Japanese art, too, influenced his attitude to perspective and spatial relations between objects.

This led him, in his London Nocturnes, to reduce the external world before him to its bare bones. Whistler's smoky images of warehouses, bridges, harbours and tall ships were designed to showcase a new kind of productive, wealth-generating landscape. It is a view of nature constrained by man-made structures: the shadowy outline of the warehouses and chimneys on the far shore; the mast and rigging of a Thames barge in the middle distance.

This absorbing book, which accompanies an exhibition at The Fitzwilliam Museum, reassesses a familiar and notoriously colourful artistic figure in a fascinating and pertinent new light, and is an important new contribution to our understanding of the Victorian art world and its physical context.

  • Author: Steven Parissien
  • Paperback: 120 pages | 50 colour illustrations
  • Date published:  October 2018
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 978-1911300496
  • Product Dimensions: 25.9 x 21.6 cm

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