Monday, August 20, 2018

Whistler: 'Color is a Splendid Bride"

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), writing in a letter to his friend Henri Fantin-LaTour, compares color to a bride that needs to be mastered by a strong husband. It says as much about his view of women and marriage as it does about his approach to color. 



"Drawing, by Jove! Color— color is vice. Certainly it can be and has the right to be one of the finest virtues. Grasped with a strong hand, controlled by her master, Drawing, Color is a splendid bride with a husband worthy of her—her lover but her master, too—the most magnificent mistress in the world, and the result is to be seen in all the lovely things produced from this union. But coupled with indecision, with a weak, timid, vicious drawing, easily satisfied, color becomes a jade making game of her mate, you know, and abusing him just as she pleases, taking the thing lightly so long as she has a good time, treating her unfortunate companion like a duffer who bores her—which is just what he does. And look at the result; a chaos of intoxication, of trickery, regret, unfinished things. Well, enough of this. It explains the immense amount of work I am now doing. I have been teaching myself thus for a year and more, and I am sure that I shall make up the wasted time. But— but—what labor and pain!”

The letter also shows that behind his brash and confident exterior, Whistler was plagued with doubts about where the pursuit of realism had brought the art of painting.

5 comments:

scottT said...

What a personality he was. His views made me think of Bonnard who said that his circle the Fauves sacrificed everything (drawing) for color. It can intoxicate and dominate.

GJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gronkchicago said...

Gotta say, that painting is in the Art Institute of Chicago and I'm very familiar with it...it's much more muted than the image of it that's posted here. http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/65709?search_no=4&index=5

Sesco said...

Despite the dated view of women, to me it shows an artist enthralled with his craft, writing about it with enthusiasm and aplomb, sharing it with a friend who understands. From his productivity he is learning, and as he masters, he loves!

Rebecca said...

This put a grin on my face! Have you ever written about the Forsius color wheel? As a lover of gray, I'd like to know more about it, but am having difficulty finding much.