Georgia Museum of Art

University of Georgia

Athens, GA



John Whalley, American Realist


Watercolors, graphite drawings, oil paintings, and egg tempera paintings by American Realist John Whalley will be on display at the Georgia Museum of Art from September 15 through October 28, 2001. John Whalley, whose skilled attention to detail is evident in each of his paintings and drawings, is known for responding to what he refers to as "the beauty that speaks softly" in each one of his subjects. A survey of Whalley's work reveals the goodness and beauty he sees in his most familiar subjects and surroundings: children, senior citizens, lakeside landscapes, and sunlit still lifes. (left: Late Sun, 1986, oil on Masonite Presdwood panel, 24 x 36 inches)

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1954, Whalley's artist mother encouraged him to draw and paint at an early age. He completed his first oil painting at eight years of age at his childhood home in upstate New York, amid the beauty of deep rural woods, hills, and a lakeshore.

After considering a career in architecture, Whalley pursued formal art training at the Rhode Island School of Design where he majored in illustration and minored in drawing and painting. In 1976, he married classmate Linda Hoffman, and they moved to Bridgewater, Massachusetts, where Whalley contributed regularly to several New England publications. In 1979, they moved to Lima, New York, then to Harrison Valley, Pennsylvania, in 1981. In Harrison Valley, the Whalleys developed a therapeutic art program for abused and abandoned children on a private 300-acre farm; it was this farm that inspired many of Whalley's early works.

After the birth of their two sons, the Whalley family moved to Standish, Maine, where Whalley completed a series of oil paintings and began working in a large format on his graphite still lifes. While in Maine, he became involved with Renaissance International, an assistance organization in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which prompted him to move there for research on the needs of homeless children in El Salvador. Since 1987, the Whalleys have blended their work in the fine arts with teaching and a commitment to providing a home and a future for the "street children" of the United States and Central and South America.

John Whalley: American Realist contains 46 works completed from 1976 to 1996. Curated by Dr. S. William Pelletier with in-house curator Cecelia Hinton, this exhibition will be on view in the Lamar Dodd Gallery. A catalogue accompanying the exhibition will be available.


Following is an excerpt from the exhibition catalogue essay titled "John Whalley, An American Realist: His Paintings, Watercolors, and Graphite Drawings," by S. William Pelletier, reprinted with permission of the Georgia Museum of Art:


John Whalley, An American Realist: His Paintings, Watercolors, and Graphite Drawings

by S. William Pelletier


I find a more genuine joy in taking every day "unbeautiful" things, placing them in a setting and painting them in as true a way as I can, so their real beauty can be discovered by the viewer. I prefer this to taking the obviously beautiful and painting it adequately. I am after the beauty that speaks softly, is often overlooked, and yet when discovered, is a source of great pleasure.[l]


These words of John Whalley express his aesthetic philosophy and are a clue to his human as well as his artistic personality. Whalley cites a number of artists who have influenced his work: Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Vermeer, Jean-Baptiste Chardin, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, and Andrew Wyeth.[2] His paintings display the same meticulous brushwork and attention to meaningful detail that are found in the old Dutch masters. He says, "The Dutch had a real love for everyday objects and very simple settings. I would think that a lot of my work has elements in it that are very similar."[3] His paintings delight the eye and provide subjects for contemplation and study. (left: William J. Young III (Youngie), 1985, egg tempera on Masonite Presdwood panel, 24 x 36 inches)

A strong background in realism is characteristic of much of American art, and realist paintings have been appreciated over the years for their beauty, detail, and picturesque qualities. Whalley is a new realist with consummate skill. As Edward R Quick, author of the exhibition catalogue The Realism of John Whalley, has written:

The still-life paintings, the portraits, the scenes which Whalley detail are not mere imitations of unimproved nature. The artist infuses a new strength, quiet dignity, and beauty into a familiar setting. His focus on his subject elevates its importance, significance and depth. Colors, forms, textures and meanings all have strength as they are bonded into a single image where their graceful blend establishes appreciation from even the most casual of observers.[4]

Judi Hazlett, an art reviewer for the Tribune Star, in reviewing the exhibition of Whalley's works at the Sheldon Swope Museum in Terre Haute in I988, commented;

Whalley's work is more than just mechanically perfect, deadly photorealism. It has tremendous warmth, dignity and charm. His subjects -- cans, creamers, baskets, fruit, vegetables, landscapes and family portraits -- are common, ordinary things which he sees as beautiful, and in their reality, he makes them so. He does it with a generous use of texture and warm light, whether in the detail of a fuzzy sweater or peach, the infinite shadows in piles of lumber, the light shining from inside a shell or the sunlight and shade on a watering can.
Whalley's portraits are elegant combinations of detail, value and line drawing, capturing the most important aspects of the subjects, but leaving some things to the imagination... Whalley's black-and-white drawings manage to make a strong statement among the many color works. They illustrate how such a simple medium as pencil creates such a variety of values, textures and moods.[5]

John Whalley was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 21, 1954; later, his family moved to a rural part of the state. His mother, a graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and a painter and art teacher, encouraged him to draw and paint at an early age. He completed his first oil painting when only eight years old, Whalley's childhood home was located deep in woods surrounding a reservoir system in upstate New York; some of his earliest memories are of exploring the hills and lakeshore, and of creating many studies in pencil and paint of the natural objects he would bring home. He even outfitted a small boat with drawing equipment and a microscope and documented the microscopic plant and animal life of a small pond near his home. Thus, from a young age he developed his sense of close observation of detail and the subtleties of the created world.[6]

WhaIley pursued formal art training after deciding against a career in architecture following an initial course at the Pratt Institute. From 1972 until 1976, he studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he majored in illustration with a minor in drawing and painting. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in I976, and in the same year married Linda Hoffman, a fellow graduate of the institution and an accomplished photographer and art teacher. The Whalley Family lived first in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, where Whalley was a regular contributor of artwork to a number of New England magazines and publications, and he taught painting and illustration workshops at the Brockton Art Center. After three years they relocated to Lima, New York (1979), and then to Harrison Valley, Pennsylvania (1981), where the Whalleys developed a therapeutic art program for fifty abused and abandoned children at a private children's home set on a three hundred-acre farm. The rural setting of this home provided Whalley with a rich source of subject matter for many of his works from this period. (left: Edith 1981, egg tempera on Masonite Presdwood panel, 24 x 36 inches)

After the birth of their two sons, Matthew and Benjamin, the Whalleys moved to the small, historic town of Standish, Maine, and lived there from 1985 until 1987.[7] During this period, Whalley completed a series of oil paintings and began working in a large format (4 x 5 feet) on many of his graphite still lifes. He also became involved as an art consultant for Renaissance International, an assistance organization for children in need in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. After John's initial visit to do research on the needs of homeless children in EI Salvador, the Whalleys relocated to Ft. Lauderdale, where John continued to develop his series of large graphite still lifes.[8]

Since I987, John and Linda have continued a unique blending of their work in the fine arts and teaching with their commitment to providing a home and a future for the "street children" of the United States and Central and South America. Their work with Renaissance International led them to open their home for extended periods to a number of teens in crisis, and to travel to Bogotá Colombia, the Amazon region, and to São Paolo, Brazil, where they spent five months in 1991 helping establish the New Horizons Youth Home. In the summer of 1996, the Whalleys conducted workshops in the arts for the children in this program in Brazil.[9] From 1998 until 2000, the Whalleys taught art and music at this same orphanage, then relocated to the state of Goias in central Brazil.

Whalley recently explained that "much of what has always drawn me to paint the worn, textured surfaces of objects and locations in New England and Pennsylvania has, oddly enough, drawn me to Latin America as well, with its rustic, functional forms, its use of color and the telltale signs of human labor and activity so evident in so much of what one sees there." He sees another parallel theme in his work as well. In his paintings and drawings, Whalley strives to direct attention and sympathies to the beautiful that can be found there in the "common" and often overlooked. In a similar way, Whalley finds great pleasure, as he puts it, "in finding and giving value, one at a time, to some of the 100 million 'throwaway children' who struggle for survival on the streets of the world, half of whom can be found in Central and South America." In keeping with his interest, some of Whalley's recent works have included objects and locations he has encountered in Brazil.[10]


1. Letter from artist to author, September 21, 1996. All cited letters from the artist to the author are still in possession of the author.

2. Edward R Quick, The Realism of John Whalley, exh. cat (Terre Haute, IN: The Sheldon Swope Art Museum, 1988), 3.

3. Eugene Hood, Dr and Mrs. Alfred Bader Collection: Selected Drawings and Paintings, exh. cat. (Eau Claire, WI: The Foster Gallery Fine Arts Center, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, 1987), 19.

4. Quick, The Realism of John Whalley, 3.

5. Judi Hazlett, "Whalley's Exhibit is Flawless," Tribune Star (Terre Haute, IN), January 29, I988.

6. Letter from artist to author, September 21, I996.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid


About the author:

John, Dr. S. W. Pelletier is along-time patron of the Georgia Museum of Art. He serves on the museum's board of advisors, and the print study room at the museum is named in honor of Dr. Pelletier and his late wife Leona. Dr. Pelletier is the rare combination of scientist and art historian, for he is the director of the natural products research institute at the University of Georgia. His print collection centers around the works of Adriaen van Ostade, Muirhead Bone, John Taylor Arms and the two noted French printmakers Charles Meryon and Jean François Millet. John Whalley is a departure in his collecting style, both in time and medium.


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