This Exhibition Has Ended

August 4, 2018
December 16, 2018
In the Gold Gallery, Floor 2L

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903) led a flamboyant lifestyle and had a caustic tongue that would have drowned the talent of a lesser artist. Edgar Degas, who was a friend, once commented to him, “You behave like a man who lacks talent.” But that was never true—Whistler was first and foremost a consummate artist, who reveled in the minutiae of his trade, devoting his talents to perfecting every detail. In mid-career he chose a stylized butterfly as his symbolic signature, reflecting his avid interest in Japanese art, and he himself became known as “The Butterfly.”

Though an accomplished painter, watercolorist, and master of the pastel medium, Whistler was a prolific printmaker. It is in the silvery beauty of his etchings and other prints that we can see how creatively experimental his methods were and how invested he was in perfecting his craft. Drawn from the Johnson’s extensive collection of Whistler’s works on paper, this exhibition highlights the artist’s choice of unusual papers, instinctual mastery of inking the plates, and ability to create atmospheric scenes, including some of the loveliest views of Venice, London, and Amsterdam produced in intaglio.

The exhibition includes works by artists who influenced him, including Canaletto, Rembrandt, and Hogarth. Whistler had complicated relationships with artist friends like Manet and Degas, and he was often frequently lampooned, as seen in several volumes of Punch magazine from Cornell Library’s Rare and Manuscript Collections. But the legacy of his talent was passed along as an enduring gift to those he mentored, and works by artists who admired and imitated him are also on view, attesting to the duration of Whistler’s own influence.


This exhibition was curated by Nancy E. Green, the Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of European and American Art, Prints & Drawings, 1800–1945, at the Johnson, and supported in part by the Jan Abrams Exhibition Endowment. Participants in the summer course “Whistler and the Victorian Art World” taught by Green and presented by Cornell’s Adult University contributed to the presentation of this exhibition.