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Delicate understatement

By Stephanie Rieke-Miller

The University of Michigan Museum of Art presents the prints of noted American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) in a comprehensive special exhibition entitled On Beauty and the Everyday: The Prints of James McNeill Whistler, on view through November 28.

This major exhibition will feature more than 100 works of art from UMMA’s rare and important Whistler collection, which covers the artist’s entire career in Europe, ranging from his student days and exposure to the vanguard artistic movements of the 19th century to the groundbreaking and atmospheric lithographs and etchings of his mature style. It is the first exhibition devoted to Whistler’s works at UMMA since 1994.

UMMA’s Whistler collection represents one of the finest holdings of Whistler’s graphic output in North America. Nearly all of the Whistler works came to the Museum through the bequest of Margaret Watson Parker, an early collector of both Whistler’s prints and Japanese art. This set of interests brought her in contact with America’s most important collector of Whistler’s work, Charles Lang Freer. The works in the Parker collection are notable for the quality of the impressions, often including rare images, and rank among the finest collections in American museums.

The exhibition will explore Whistler’s illustrious life and career; his artistic themes and concerns, including portraiture and his well-known series from England, Italy, and France; the interests and legacy of early-20th-century Whistler collector Margaret Watson Parker; and the tools and techniques that Whistler employed as a printmaker.

Whistler was born in the United States but moved to Europe as a teenager. While living in Paris and London, he came in contact with avant-garde artists, alternative modes of representation offered by Japanese woodblock prints, and the diverse approaches of the Realists, Pre-Raphaelites, and the Impressionists. UMMA’s exhibition will examine the unique and innovative style Whistler developed—blending acute observation, a delicate sense of color, and an understated simplicity.

This exhibition is made possible in part by the University of Michigan Health System, the University of Michigan Office of the Provost, the Friends of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and the Doris Sloan Memorial Fund.

Programs organized in conjunction with the exhibition will include lectures by UMMA Senior Curator of Western Art Carole McNamara and a major international scholar on a related topic as part of UMMA’s annual Doris Sloan Memorial Lecture; concerts featuring faculty and students from UM’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance; a film series; a workshop for K-12 teachers; and docent-guided gallery tours.

Stephanie Rieke-Miller is external communications manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.