We challenged our Picture Department to imagine what it would be like to spend an evening over dinner in the company of an artist of their choice. Next up, Head of Department - Jane Oakley
27 July 2021
Without hesitation, I would dine with the American James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). Mainly raised in Europe, Whistler moved to Paris in 1855, lured by the glamour and reputation of the city – then the main centre of the avant-garde movement. He later spent periods in London’s Chelsea, then also an artist hotspot. He was shocking, daring, and brilliant, famous for his quips and witticisms that were often not without their barb. He sometimes even described himself as “the amazing one”.
He was exceptionally talented and is one of my favourite artists. He was a leading proponent of the aesthetic movement, heading the charge of ‘art for art’s sake’, a notion that challenged the prevailing Victorian conviction that art should have a moral or social function. He was a central figure of the avant-garde, yet he always went his own way – he was invited to exhibit in the first Impressionist exhibition by Degas, but declined. He was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints and created beautiful oil paintings of landscapes and figures using subtle, understated tonal values which he titled as “arrangements” or “nocturnes”. He was immortalised as a character in George du Maurier’s Parisian novel ‘Trilby’ of 1894 as: ‘King of Bohemia, always in debt…. vain, witty, eccentric in attire…. The most irresistible friend in the world as long as his friendship lasted…’
JAMES ABBOTT MCNEILL WHISTLER (American, 1834-1903)
'THE POOL' (WEDMORE 41; KENNEDY 43)
Sold for £2,090 including fees in December 2019
His parties were legendry and I like to imagine dinner with Whistler would enable me to mix with the finest minds and artists of the period or at least to hear entertaining stories about them – Baudelaire, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Rossetti, Oscar Wilde. An epicurean and aesthete, I have no doubt that we would eat and drink well and it would undoubtedly be a stimulating and entertaining evening. At one of his dinners, after he had delivered a particularly fine epigram, Oscar Wilde was said to have remarked “I wish I had said that.” Whistler replied, “You will, Oscar, you will!”.
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5 August 2022
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