53
53
James McNeill Whistler
1834-1903
BLUE AND OPAL: HERRING FLEET
Estimate
300,000500,000
LOT SOLD. 361,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
53
James McNeill Whistler
1834-1903
BLUE AND OPAL: HERRING FLEET
Estimate
300,000500,000
LOT SOLD. 361,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

American Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture

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New York

James McNeill Whistler
1834-1903
BLUE AND OPAL: HERRING FLEET
signed with the artist's butterfly monogram, l.l.
oil on panel
4 3/4 by 8 1/2 in.
(12.1 by 21.6 cm)
Painted in St. Ives, January or March 1884.
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Provenance

Miss van der Weyer, London
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
Weyer, New York, 1920
William Macbeth Gallery, New York
J.J. Ryan
By descent in the family to the present owner

Exhibited

London, Dowdeswell, 1884

Literature

Andrew McLaren Young, Margaret MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven, Connecticut, no. 273, p. 145, illustrated plate 185

Catalogue Note

James McNeill Whistler wrote, "As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, and the subject-matter has nothing to do with harmony of sound or of color.'   For Whistler, the 'harmony' of subtle colors in a refined tonalist palette were paramount to subject matter and composition.  Using broad, spare brushstrokes and simplified forms, Whistler's landscapes were often two dimensional- their foregrounds blending seamlessly with their backgrounds. 

 

This 'radical' flattening of the picture plane was vilified by critics early on but by the 1880s, Whistler had achieved critical, if not financial, success, having exhibited major paintings at the Royal Academy.  In 1884, the year the present work was painted, Whistler spent much of his time in St. Ives, Cornwall, perfecting his tonalist landscapes, Donald Holden notes that in the 1880s, "he seemed to rediscover the crisp light of day. He no longer relied on darkness to abstract and simplify nature for him. For the first time, he began to paint on location - most often at the seashore - in the open air, where shapes were sharply defined by the sunlight... Whistler's simple means became simpler still as he sat in a bobbing boat - the boatmen struggling to hold it steady - trying to catch the form and gesture of a breaking wave in a few solid strokes" (Whistler Landscapes and Seascapes, New York, 1969, p. 56).

 

By the 1890s, Whistler's atmospheric aesthetic was heralded by the cultural elite.  Richard Dorment, co-author of Whistler's catalogue raisonné writes, "Whistler found beauty in the most ordinary urban scene, in an empty stretch of water, in night, in fog: phenomena most of his contemporaries would have denied were there to be seen at all. Thus in Bleak House of 1852-53, Charles Dickens treats fog as no more than a sinister, unhealthy pollutant; by 1893, when Emile Zola visited London, he saw fog in the word of one writer, as 'the most interesting aesthetic experience the capital had to offer.'  This was Whistler's doing.  Oscar Wilde understood that Whistler changed the way men and women saw the world.  In 1898 Wilde asked, 'Where, if not from the Impressionists, do we get those wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas lamps and changing the house into monstrous shadows?  To whom if not to them and their master do we owe the lovely silver mists that brood over the river and turn to faint forms of fading grace a curved bridge and swaying barge?  The extraordinary change that has taken place in the climate of London during the last ten years is entirely due to a particular school of Art" (Whistler, London, England, 1994, p. 20).

 

American Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture

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New York