June 9, 2003
BMA Presents Whistler and Cassatt: Americans Abroad
Exhibition commemorates the centennial of Whistler’s death
BALTIMORE, MD (June 9, 2003)—Views of Venice, London, and Paris by American artists James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Mary Cassatt recall the romance of Europe in nearly 100 prints and drawings from the BMA’s outstanding collection of works on paper. Whistler and Cassatt: Americans Abroad, on view from June 11 through October 12, 2003, reveals the influence of Europe on these two expatriate artists and commemorates the centennial of the death of Whistler.
“Artists have long traveled to study, see the work of other artists, and absorb the ambience of foreign locales,” said Susan Dackerman, BMA Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs. “Whistler and Cassatt were influenced by some of the most important European artists and art critics of their day to illustrate aspects of modern life not previously represented in art.”
Whistler was one of the most innovative artists of the 19th century and, like many great painters of his generation, a dedicated printmaker. On view are some of his best-known prints, drawn from the BMA’s collection of works by the artist, one of the finest in the nation. The highlight is 30 beautiful vignettes of Venetian canals and doorways from Whistler’s series “Etchings of Venice,” considered his most inspired and influential work. Also included are examples from Whistler’s first series of etchings called the “French Set,” which features prints of people and scenes that he observed during his walking tour of France and Germany, as well as selections from his most famous series of etchings, the “Thames Set,” depicting life and work on the river and its wharves.
While many of Whistler’s prints represent European locales and their inhabitants, most of Cassatt’s prints portray more intimate, domestic scenes. Cassatt is best known for her depictions of mothers and their children, and the exhibition will include numerous examples of these beloved works. She created her most experimental prints in association with Edgar Degas, who invited her to join the Impressionists in 1879. Examples of several of these works, tonal etchings that portray her family members in domestic interiors and women in Parisian settings, will be featured. Also on display will be four impressions of colored prints—of etchings that portray women engaged in the activities of their daily lives. The BMA is recognized as having one of the most important collections of works by Cassatt in the country.
Whistler and Cassatt: Americans Abroad is curated by Susan Dackerman, BMA Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs.
James Abbott McNeil Whistler (1834-1903)
Whistler’s views of France, Britain, and Italy were eagerly collected by art patrons, many of whom were American and interested in depictions of exotic and foreign locations. One of the most ardent collectors of Whistler’s prints was Baltimore expatriate George A. Lucas, a family friend of the artist as a youth. The two men attended West Point together for a brief period, and both ended up leaving America at different times to spend the rest of their lives in Europe. The Lucas collection is a remarkable part of the BMA’s extensive holdings of works on paper, which includes an exceptionally rich collection of Whistler prints.
Whistler, born in Lowell, Massachusetts, worked as a Navy cartographer and etcher after failing out of West Point Academy in 1854. He then traveled abroad to study painting in Paris and London. In Paris, he encountered artists that would influence his work, including Gustave Courbet and Henri Fantin-Latour, who helped him to hone his Realist style. During the 1860s, he experimented with figure compositions based on Japanese art and Aestheticism, only to turn to landscapes the following decade. In the 1880s he returned to portraiture and acted as an important link to the avant-garde artistic worlds of Europe, Britain, and America. He is recognized for his innovative paintings and drawings that manipulate color and mood for their own sake and for his mastery of etching.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Like Whistler, Cassatt also was acquainted with collector George Lucas, and many of the prints in the BMA’s collection are inscribed with personal dedications from the artist to him. The Museum’s rich holdings of Cassatt prints was supplemented by acquisitions made by curator, and later Museum director, Adelyn Breeskin, who was the most prominent Cassatt scholar of her time. In 1948, she compiled the first catalogue raisonné of the artist’s prints. Cassatt is best known for her Impressionist paintings and colored etchings that depict domestic scenes.
She was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a family that offered little encouragement to her artistic desires. While studying abroad in Paris, she met artist Edgar Degas, who invited her to exhibit with the Impressionists. In the 1890s she discovered Japanese prints, which influenced bolder color in her works and led her to her experiment with aquatint and drypoint. By 1912, she was almost blind and forced to abandon her work, yet she continued to teach young artists. Cassatt is also known for advising Americans to acquire the work of fellow Impressionists Degas and Manet.
About the Baltimore Museum of Art
Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds. The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture. The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.