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No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art


The Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art will hold a special opening reception for "No Day Without a Line: Whistler in the Archives of American Art" on October 15, 2003 at the Archives' New York Regional Center Gallery. The exhibition interprets documentary material drawn from the Archives' collections and pertaining to James McNeil! Whistler and his American peers. It will also feature works of art from the collections of Margaret and Raymond Horowitz and Rita Fraad.

The exhibition will be open to the public from October 16 through January 9, 2004. The New York Regional Center Gallery is located on the lobby level of the UBS Building, 1285 Avenue of the Americas between 51st and 52nd Streets.

"Whistler is well-represented in the collections of the Archives of American Art," says art historian Avis Berman, curator of the exhibition. "So in 2003, the centennial of his death, a celebration of the artist seemed especially fitting."

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was a painter and printmaker best known for his portraits, seascapes and night scenes called "nocturnes." Whistler was born in Massachusetts, but educated as a young boy in Russia and as an adult in London and Paris, where he stayed until his death. As a young man, he was associated with the circle of avant-garde painters led by Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet and cultivated a reputation as an independent artist and thinker.

Beginning with a display of the artist's own palette and brushes from ca. 1888-1890, "No Day Without A Line" offers a fascinating exploration into Whistler's character, relationships and oeuvre. The title of the exhibition comes from an inscription on one of Whistler's sketches, an artist's motto that aptly describes his creative output as a prolific artist and writer throughout his life.

Items from the Archives' collection comprise the bulk of the exhibition and include letters, photographs, manuscripts and exhibition catalogues. In a letter from Whistler to art dealer George Lucas in 1863, the artist divulges his plan to submit his painting The White Girl of 1862 to the Paris Salon jury because the Royal Academy of Arts in London had rejected the picture earlier. Alluding to his disdain for the Academy's entrenchment in traditional painting styles, Whistler remarked that having his work accepted by the Salon would be a "crusher for the Academy." Even though the picture was rejected by the Salon as well, his speculation would indeed come true after he entered the picture in the landmark exhibition, the Salon de Refusés.

Other letters and correspondence shed light on Whistler's relationships with patron Katherine De Kay Bronson and artists John White Alexander, Robert Frederick Blum, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, and John Singer Sargent. Whistler's widespread influence on the art world is evident in the array of published catalogues and reminisces produced by acquaintances and contemporaries after his death.

Also on view are manuscripts and original copies of The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, a publication of Whistler's letters and witticisms, which turned controversial when the artist switched publishers at the last minute. Both official and unofficial editions were released, but the former bears Whistler's trademark flair for exquisite design and layout.

In complement to the documentary materials in the exhibition are several works of art by Whistler and his contemporaries, including lithographs, etchings, pastels and drawings. Two exquisite lithographs by Whistler - The Toilet, 1878, with his mistress, Maud Franklin, and La Belle Dame Endormie, 1894, of his wife, Beatrice - are on loan from the Horowitz collection and exemplify the artist's innovations in the medium. Borrowed from the Fraad collection is a vibrant watercolor by John Singer Sargent, A Spanish Barracks, 1903, which provides a fitting accompaniment to the letters in the exhibition by the artist's father, Fitzwilliam Sargent. Other works of art on display include a pastel by Blum, a drawing by Chase, etchings by Whistler and Cassatt, and commemorative bronze bas-reliefs by Victor David Brenner of Whistler and his favorite personal symbols, the peacock and the butterfly.

A digitized version of this exhibition will be online at http://www.aaa.si.edu.

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