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About the Exhibition

Whistler Circles explores the etchings of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and his followers. Showcasing works from the late 19th century Etching Revival, ranging from touristic scenes of pastoral landscapes and famous monuments to avant-garde aesthetic works nearing abstraction, this exhibition depicts scenes of rural and urban European life during a time of transformation.

The artists of the Etching Revival, who looked to Whistler as their leader, set out to explore the potential of etching as an artistic medium rather than a method of reproducing paintings. They were inspired by Old Master prints, including works by Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer. During the late 19th century until its demise with the Great Depression, the Etching Revival increased the respect for etching and was very successful commercially.

James McNeill Whistler was an American artist who lived in Europe from 1855 to his death in 1903. His paintings, such as the Portrait of the Artist’s Mother and his musically titled Nocturnes, embody “art for art’s sake,” meaning an art concerned only with beauty and without any narrative or social message. As he traveled throughout France, London, and finally Venice, Whistler developed his artistic philosophies, created work in etching and other media, and influenced other artists, many who sought to incorporate his “art for art’s sake” philosophy into etching.

Whistler Circles explores the lingering influence of French Realism on the Etching Revival artists in France, such as Alphonse Legros and Jean-Francois Millet, and then follows Whistler to London. Here he and his followers, Francis Seymour Haden and Walter Greaves, document the changing urban landscape of the city on the Thames. During his travels to Venice, Whistler gathered followers such as Otto Bacher and other members of the “Duveneck Boys,” who created works that resemble his nearly abstract style. The legacy of the Etching Revival continued into the 20th century and spread throughout the rest of Europe and even to America.

The bulk of the exhibition is made up of prints from the collection of Gayle McJunkin and her late husband along with works from Carleton College, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Frederick R. Weisman Museum at the University of Minnesota. The exhibition was organized by Susan Carlson ’08, Tom Kracauer ’08, Kate McDonald ’10, Spencer Wigmore ’11, and C. Grace Young ‘08‘ through Laurel Bradley’s winter term Curatorial Seminar.

- Spencer Wigmore and C. Grace Young