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James Abbott McNeil Whistler (American, 1834 - 1909)
Nocturne, 1878, lithograph on blue-gray paper laid down on white wove paper.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler Lithographs from the Steven L. Block Collection, gift of Steven L. Block, and an additional gift from Mrs. W. L. Lyons Brown 2004.7.38

In the 1870s James McNeil Whistler made a habit of rowing along the River Thames in London in the dead of night. Memorizing the colors, forms and tones of the moonlit harbors, boats and buildings he would later translate these impressions into drawings, prints and paintings. He called this series of works his Nocturnes. These nighttime views of the River Thames were named after the quiet, dreamlike musical compositions that were popular at the time. They were inspired in part by Japanese woodcut prints of harbors and moonlit scenes. This particular print was one of Whistler’s earliest lithographs. He created the subtle gradations in tone by using diluted washes of tusche, a liquid used in lithography for drawing and painting. The delicate image almost threatens to dissolve into abstract forms, but the strength and harmony of the composition reveals itself through the haze and mist.




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