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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Book Review: James McNeill Whistler

James McNeill Whistler: Beyond the Myth by Ronald Anderson and Anne Koval (1994) is a compelling biography revealing details of Whistler's life and cultural influences that are often overlooked. Whistler began with lackadaisical military training at West Point and evolved an amazing career of artistic innovation and achievement in London and Paris. He was a consummate and prolific printmaker, as well as a much sought after portrait painter. Many of the stories that resonate in the public perception of the man were outrageously exaggerated and circulated by Whistler himself, who was witty and unrelenting in attacking his critics. He consorted with many of the Impressionists in France in the early years, when their dissatisfaction with the Academy was just beginning to surface. His own rebellious nature put him at odds with both the great Academy in Paris and the Royal Academy in London. There are a few illustrations and photos in the book. I brought some Whistler monographs home from the library, so I could study the paintings and engravings in the context of this comprehensive biography. I've always liked Whistler, but this book gave me a much greater appreciation of his talent and vast accomplishments.

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