Lifting the lid on Whistler

Whistler: Art and Legacy
9 July – 31 October 2021
Hunterian Art Gallery
Admission free and by pre-booked timed ticket

A major new exhibition opening at The Hunterian in July explores the art and legacy of American-born artist James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903).

The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Whistler’s work which includes paintings, drawings, watercolours, pastels, etchings and lithographs, as well as extensive holdings of his artist’s materials and the contents of his studio.

Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA, Whistler spent his working life in Britain and France. From a family of soldiers and engineers, he studied topography at United States Military Academy, West Point, as an officer cadet. This formative training and sympathy for technology shaped his work, together with an enduring interest in light and weather and its effects on the urban landscape.

Whistler: Art and Legacy, at the Hunterian Art Gallery from 9 July, showcases The Hunterian collection’s strengths and richness and features items from University of Glasgow Library, Archives and Special Collections, including sketchbooks, letters and photographs. The exhibition investigates the development of Whistler’s artistic practice and tells the story of how the University of Glasgow came to acquire this leading collection of his work through the generosity of his sister-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873–1958).

Major works in oil from The Hunterian collection include Battersea Reach from Lindsay Houses (1864–71) and Nocturne (1875–77), displayed alongside a selection of rarely seen material such as his Venetian pastels, made during his artistic exile in the city in 1879-80. Such works are not usually on public view due to their fragility. Others can only be seen in Glasgow as the terms of Rosalind Birnie Philip’s bequest stipulate that the works she gifted in 1935 could only be kept and used on the University campus. Whistler: Art and Legacy showcases this lesser-known corner of the collection alongside other aspects of Whistler’s life and art.

The exhibition themes explore the impact of Whistler’s cosmopolitan family background on his career and the influence of Japanese printmakers, together with that of important artistic contacts like the English decorative painter Albert Moore (1841–93).

Another important section is devoted to Whistler’s late work and his life in Paris during the 1890s that draws on the strengths of the collection and is a lesser-known period of his career. The final section of the exhibition examines Whistler’s artistic legacy which has been carried forward by University of Glasgow researchers over the last few decades through major digital and technical art history projects.

Whistler: Art and Legacy is at the Hunterian Art Gallery from 9 July–31 October 2021.
Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am–5pm and Sunday 11am–4pm. Closed Monday.
Admission is free and by pre-booked timed ticket: gla.ac.uk/whistlerartandlegacy


First published: 31 May 2021

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