Friday, November 13, 2009

So much of where you wind up has to do with small twists and accidental meetings. There have been scores of jokes about Whistler's mother, but apparently she was a rather formidable person who had high expectations of her children. James went to West Point, but was not exactly a top student. When examined in chemistry about the nature of silicon, "he stood up and said: 'I am required to discuss the subject of silicon. Silicon is a gas.'

Having accumulated scores of demerits, this marked the end of his career there. Many years later he is said to have remarked, "If silicon had
been a gas, I would have been a major general."

This set-back did not seem to dampen his resolve to find some work with the army. Besides, mother was not pleased. Through a West Point friend, he managed to get hired by the Drawing Division (I suppose that's long gone) and wound up learning etching which served him well and provided some income during one of his numerous bleak financial periods.
Above is Annie Seated.

Here's the earliest painting that gained him some notoriety, At the Piano (1858-59). I think if the girl's face had been rendered more realistically, if would have been too balanced and less interesting. What do you think? Also like the curve of the piano against the straighter lines of the framed pictures. It's said he struggled to paint hands, was almost never happy with the results, and found clever ways to avoid painting them.

I'm still struggling with faces and often turn them away. Years ago at a class at UCLA the instructor suggested I just give up on the portrait and throw the face into shadow. It was about 15 years before I tried painting again. It would have helped to have a bit of the kind of resolve Whistler had. He was constantly derided by the critics, but went his own way with his moody, increasingly abstract pieces.

Here's Noturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket.

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