Victorian Art & Design, Whistler 1
Whistler was born in the USA. He first learned how to make etchings in Washington DC where he worked briefly for the Coast Survey, making maps. In 1885 he left the USA to study art in Paris. There he made friends with Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros. With a friend he visited Alsace and then they took a steamer down the Rhine. At Cologne they ran out of money. They left Whistler's copper plates with the inn keeper until they could pay his bill. When Whistler got them back they were included in his first published set of etchings, called The French Set. In 1859 the Salon rejected his painting At the Piano. It showed his sister, Mrs Haden, and her daughter, Annie, with a piano.
Whistler's rejection by the Salon made him decide to leave Paris for London. He was luckier there as the Royal Academy chose At the Piano and five of his etchings for its 1860 Exhibition. Several British artists praised his painting. Holman Hunt praised its use of colour. Millais told Whistler, 'Your picture is the finest piece of colour that has been put on the walls of the Academy in years'. G. F. Watts said, 'It is the most perfect thing I have ever ever seen'.
The River Thames attracted Whistler. He did a number of paintings of the river at night. At first he called them 'Moonlights'. The art collector, Frederick Leyland then suggested a new name, 'Nocturnes' and Whistler used that. Shown below is his Nocturne, Blue and Silver.
Whistler also did a Thames Set of etchings. He stayed in the dockland area at Rotherhithe and Wapping so that he could draw the crumbling warehouses. He usually drew directly onto the waxed copperplates, instead of drawing on paper first. This resulted in reverse etchings as the pictures were back to front. Shown below is his 1859 etching, Black Lion Wharf from the Thames Set.