Lifting the lid on Whistler

Published: 31 May 2021

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

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:

For further information or images contact:

Harriet Gaston, Communications Manager, The Hunterian
Mark Flanagan, Communications Assistant, The Hunterian

Notes to Editors

The Whistler Collection

The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, is home to one of the pre-eminent collections of the work of the American-born painter and printmaker James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903). Whistler’s night-time views of London and the Thames, striking full-length portraits, innovative etchings, sumptuous Peacock Room interior and his progressive views about art, challenged the artistic establishment and laid important foundations for 20th-century abstraction.

The Hunterian’s Whistler Collection comprises 80 oil paintings, several hundred drawings, watercolours and pastels, and over 1,500 impressions of his etchings and lithographs, as well as extensive holdings of his artist’s materials, including brushes, etching plates, and printmaking tools. The holding provides a major resource for the study of Whistler’s life and times, and the basis for the world's largest public display of Whistler's art. In addition, The Hunterian houses the principal holding of the work of Whistler’s wife, Beatrix Philip (1857–96), numbering nearly 300 items, including oils, etchings, drawings and watercolours.

The collection is centred on Whistler’s Estate. Whistler bequeathed his Estate to his sister-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873–1958), a younger sister of his late wife. Miss Philip subsequently gifted and bequeathed the art collection, together with Whistler's personal collections of decorative art and memorabilia, to the University of Glasgow in 1935 and 1958 respectively.

Glasgow was chosen for several reasons, including Whistler's Scottish ancestry; the support in his lifetime of the painters, the ‘Glasgow Boys’, which led to the purchase by the city in 1891 of Whistler's portrait of Thomas Carlyle; and, in 1903, shortly before his death, the decision by the University of Glasgow to award Whistler the honorary degree of Doctor of Law. In addition, in 1954 Miss Philip presented the University with an important archive of over 4,000 letters as well as catalogues, press cuttings, photographs, books and memorabilia. This unrivalled archive is housed in the Archives and Special Collections Department of the University Library. Important additions have since been made to both holdings.

The University of Glasgow has played a key role in shaping Whistler’s legacy, past and present, through its world-leading Hunterian collection and distinguished record of Whistler scholarship over the past 50 years. This unique resource continues to evolve, through new and future research, teaching and thinking around this world-class collection.

The Hunterian

The Hunterian is one of the world's leading University museums and one of Scotland’s greatest cultural assets. Built on Dr William Hunter’s founding bequest, The Hunterian collections include scientific instruments used by James Watt, Joseph Lister and Lord Kelvin; outstanding Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall; major natural and life sciences holdings; Hunter’s own extensive anatomical teaching collection; one of the world’s greatest numismatic collections and ethnographic objects from Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages.

The Hunterian is also home to one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland and features the world’s largest permanent display of the work of James McNeill Whistler, the largest single holding of the work of Scottish artist, architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928) and The Mackintosh House, the reassembled interiors from his Glasgow home.
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First published: 31 May 2021