Exhibition explores US artist Whistler's London years

Exhibition explores US artist Whistler's London years
Margaret MacDonald, art history professsor at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, discusses a painting of the River Thames in London by 19th American artist James McNeill Whistler in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON - A major exhibition of paintings and etchings by James McNeill Whistler opens in Washington this weekend - but don't expect to see his mother there.

"An American in London: Whistler and the Thames" spotlights the 19th century American artist's many years in the British capital and his fascination with the storied river than runs through it.

Starting with his vivid depictions of life along the Thames, the show - at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries on the National Mall - progresses to the moody, virtually abstract twilight images, or Nocturnes, that Whistler began creating around 1871.

That's the same year he painted his "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1," better known as "Whistler's Mother," in which she appears seated and unsmiling, wearing a white bonnet, a study in Victorian prudery.

"I doubt very much we could have made an argument for having it here at the show," said University of Glasgow art history professor Margaret MacDonald, who co-curated the exhibition with colleague Patricia de Montfort.

"It would have thrown it," she told AFP, "and we wanted a coherent story."

Washington is the third stop for the exhibition that explores Whistler's vision of the Thames, its many bridges and the folks who lived and worked along its muddy banks, at a time when London - the throbbing hub of the British Empire - was undergoing dramatic change.

The show has previously appeared at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London and Addison Gallery of American Art in Massachusetts.

But it has been enhanced by pieces from the Freer's own substantial collection of the artist's work - a collection that grew out of Whistler's close friendship with his most important patron, Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer, who founded the museum.

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