DC -- Freer Gallery of Art -- Exhibit: Mr. Whistler's Galleries: Avant-Garde in Victorian London:
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Description of Pictures: Mr. Whistler's Galleries: Avant-Garde in Victorian London
November 20, 2003 – April 4, 2004
This exhibition, marking the centenary of Whistler's death on July 17, 1903, highlights his importance to the history of exhibition design by creating new versions of 2 of his most influential installations: Arrangement in Yellow and White, which exhibited 51 of his etchings in 1883; and Arrangement in Flesh Color and Grey, which exhibited 67 of his paintings, watercolors, and pastels in 1884. Many rarely displayed works are on view, including 34 oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels from the original 1884 exhibition and 49 of the original 51 etchings of Venice and London.
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Specific picture descriptions: Photos above with "i" icons next to the bracketed sequence numbers (e.g. " ") are described as follows:
SIFGAG_040109_23.JPG: Portrait of Whistler With a Hat (1857-58)
by James Whistler, oil on canvas
Whistler's prints were often compared favorably to those of Rembrandt van Rijn. Here, wearing a large beret, the young Whistler identifies himself with known images of Rembrandt. In this early self-portrait, painted using the dark palette and rich impasto characteristic of the Dutch master's work, Whistler exhibits the strategic role-playing that he used to draw attention to himself and his art throughout his career.
SIFGAG_040109_29.JPG: Mr Whistler's Galleries: Avant-Garde in Victorian London
"Now my rooms are pictures in themselves." -- James McNeill Whistler
James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) is most often remembered as a painter and printmaker but he was also an important designer of both private and public interiors. "Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room" (1876-77) is Whistler's best-known interior. Originally designed as the dining room in the London home of a wealthy shipping magnate, it is now permanently installed in this museum. But few of Whistler's contemporaries would have had access to "The Peacock Room" or any of his other private interiors. Whistler's designs for temporary public exhibitions, on the other hand, were both accessible and influential.
When Whistler arrived in Paris to study art in 1855, public and private art installations were usually hung "salon style." Paintings were displayed close together, frame to frame, wall to wall, and floor to ceiling. Beginning in the 1870's, Whistler organized a series of innovative and provocative installations that presented his own work as he wished it to be seen. Drawing public attention to his art, these installations also promoted his ideas about interior decoration, playing a crucial role in the transformation of exhibition practice. Many elements of Whistler's installations are now commonplace, including his use of indirect lighting, color-coordinated walls, uniform framing, elegant spacing, special seating, and neutral floor coverings. While Whistler did not invent any of these features, his ability to asestheticize them was unequalled. His highly publicized installations challenged contemporary exhibition practice, hastening the decline of the salon-style hang and paving the way for the sparer installations found in most galleries and museums today.
In the early 1880's, Whistler began to title his installations, suggesting that he had come to think of them as independent works of art. The first two installations to be given titles were the "Arrangements in White and Yellow," created for an exhibition of etchings in 1883, and the "Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Grey," designed for an exhibition of oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels in 1884. "Mr . Whistler's Galleries" highlights Whistler's contribution to this history of exhibition design by displaying new versions of those groundbreaking installations.
SIFGAG_040109_38.JPG: Scherzo in blue -- The Blue Girl
One of the most perplexing decisions we had to make in creating our version of Whister's "Arrange in Flesh Colour and Grey" concerned "Scherzo in blue -- The Blue Girl," which was the only large painting included in the 1884 exhibition. Period reviews suggest that "The Blue Girl" was hung in the most prominent location in the gallery, in the middle of the back wall, facing the entrance. Whistler's correspondence suggests that he intended to juxtapose the large painting with the sixty-six small paintings, drawings, pastels -- stars of different magnitudes, grouped around a blue moon -- a lifesize full-length portrait, called by the artist "Scherzo in blue -- The Blue Girl." Many reviewers complained about Whistler's treatment of the model's face, and Whistler eventually destroyed the painting, although his first biographers published a photo of it in 1911.
Faced with a choice between including no large portrait and the "wrong" large portrait, we decided to make Whistler's "Arrangement in White and Black" the focal point of our installation. "Arrangement in White and Black" was completed a few years before "The Blue Girl." The model is a few years older than the model in the destroyed painting and the color is very different, but it is a life-sized image of similarly assertive young woman. By substituting "Arrangement in White and Black" for the destroyed painting, we were able to recreate the play of scale that was integral to Whistler's conception of the 1884 installation.
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2004 photos: Equipment this year: I bought two Fujifilm S7000 digital cameras. While they produced excellent images, I found all of the retractable-lens Fuji models had a disturbing tendency to get dust inside the lens. Dark blurs would show up on the images and the camera had to be sent back to the shop in order to get it fixed. I returned one of the cameras when the blurs showed up in the first month. I found myself buying extended warranties on cameras.
Trips this year: (1) Margot and I went off to Scotland for a few days, my first time overseas. (2) I went to Hawaii on business (such a deal!) and extended it, spending a week in Hawaii and another in California. (3) I went to Tennessee to man a booth and extended it to go to my third Fan Fair country music festival.
Number of photos taken this year: 110,000.