Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Complement to the "View" Paintings

Where: Freer Gallery of Art

When: through November 1, 2015

When one thinks of the Freer, one thinks primarily of Asian art, and with good reason.  The collection is wonderful, as anyone who's followed this blog knows. The pottery, the paintings, the screens, the sculpture, what I call beautiful things, beautifully displayed.

Freer collected American art as well as Asian, and it's this part of his collection that is on display in the show entitled, "Fine Impressions: Whistler, Freer, and Venice."

Freer was initially unimpressed with Whistler and was at a loss to understand his popularity.  Then he what I can only describe as a "Paul on the road to Damascus" moment in a fellow collector's apartment, and started buying Whistler pieces the next day.  Eventually, the two men became friends, and Whistler helped Freer amass what is arguably the finest collection of Whistlers in the world.

The show is of Whistler's etchings of Venice.  Not the touristy Venice, so beloved of "view painters" and post card photographers, but the other Venice - that inhabited by its ordinary citizens.  People in these pieces go about their daily lives, including hanging out an extraordinary amount of washing.  Shirts seem to hang from every window.  There's an intimacy that I like in these works, a universality of human experience; it's only the water-filled streets and the gondolas that put you in Venice and not in another city.

Interestingly, Whistler did all of his own printmaking, something artists often left to others.  His involvement in every aspect of the creation of these pieces gives you a sense of a single vision in these pictures.  No one else has super-imposed his or her ideas of how the scene should look.  This is how Whistler wants you to see his Venice.

The show also includes a fan and a ceramic bottle, which Freer said reminded him of Whistler's work.  I could not help but be reminded in my turn of the Barnes, with its juxtapositioning of "flat art" and handcrafts.

Verdict: A small show, easily managed in a lunch hour; it's on the ground floor of the museum, so head downstairs from the main entrance. 

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