In transcribing the following essay from The Reader, an interesting, unfortunately short-lived intellectual magazine of the 1860s, I have used the Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. The full-text version is generally accurate, and the one common OCR error here takes the form of turning the letter “e” as “o.” I corrected the scanning errors. If you come upon any errors I have missed, please do not hesitate to let the editors of this site know. — George P. Landow
THE Artists' and Amateurs' Conversazione, held on Thursday, the 26th ult., at Willis's Rooms, was particularly interesting to the lovers and students of the art of etching on account of the fine display of etchings contributed by Mr. Whistler. The name of this gentleman, as an artist equally expert with brush and with etching-needle, is already fairly familiar to Londoners. American by birth, Parisian by art-training, he at once made an impression, some years ago, with his first exhibited picture of a "Lady at the Piano," and his etchings have always shown a marked propensity for shorelife, river life, boat-life, harge-life—for everything which hints of old wharves, jetties, piers, rigging, bow-windows overlooking reaches of the peopled stream, and that class of hard-fisted, square shouldered, solid and stolid-faced men, on whom the odour of tar and of tobacco is equally incorporate. Broad sheen of full tided river surface; ridged tide-marks creeping up the beach; ripples gleaming and dancing to the eye near at hand, or lending an ambiguous comminution to the more distant space of water; clouds blowing over aa uncertain sky, or dispersed by gleams of sunshine, which grow gradually into steadiness of light—these aspects of free nature, and such as these, set off the quaint, out-of-the-way, matter-of-fact picturesque of Mr. Whistler's human or artificial material. It is a little curious that the artist, of all artists, past or present, who has an intuition of the opportunities which Thames' scenery offers for the purposes of art, should come to us from a birth-place across the Atlantic, and a studio across the Channel. The fogs, beauties, and oddities of our river, just as it stands before us now, bid fair to become Mr. Whistler's specialité; he has yet some months or years to work in before the waited sepulchre of embankment robs London of the one really characteristic feature which it offers to the study and delight of artistic eyes. Mr. Whistler's etchings are not confined to these river-side views; as many of our readers will be aware, he frequently employs his skill upon landscapes or figure-subjects — though he seldom, or never, in the latter line does more than single figures or heads. As an adept in the technicalities of etching, whether with the dry-point or aquafortis, Mr. Whistler stands quite exceptionally high; one might cast about in one's mind to name his superior since the days of Rembrandt, and one might exhaust in a very few names the list of his equals. Boldness of general effect and habit of conceiving his subjects is combined with surprising delicacy of hand and line, as well as with an arbitrary method of treatment, which one is sometimes in doubt whether to count as a charm or a blemish. Beyond question, this quality conspires to the result of numbering Mr. Whistler among distinctly original artists; but, doubtless, also, it is sometimes excessive or misapplied, and it goes far to restrict his admirers to the artistic and connoisseur classes. To others, with all his singular fineness of worn, he appears slovenly; with all his peculiar insight into his subject-matter—true rather by way of eccentrio hap-hazard than of thorough knowledge and present ment. Along with a fine selection of his etehings Mr. Whistler's very remarkable life-size oil picture, "The Woman in White," was shown at the Artists' and Amateurs' Conversazione. This work had been exhibited last year in Bernecrs Street, and puzzled some visitors by the identity of its title with that of Mr. Wilkie Collins's novel, to which it has evidently no relation whatever. Without being an attractive picture — partly through seeming to have missed the full beauty of a head which should be beautiful in the life, and partly from peculiarities of artistic point of view — it is, nevertheless, a work of real mark, vivid, strong, and masterly in painting, and instinct with unmistakeable style.
W[illiam]. M[ichael]. R[ossetti]. “Mr. Whistler’s Etchings.” The Reader: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Art. (4 April 1863): 342. London: “Published at 112, Fleet Street,” 1863. Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. 20 July 2016.
Last modified 20 July 2016