New Exhibits at the Addison Gallery of American Art: An American in London

 – Sharan Gill –

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge, 1859-1863, oil on canvas mounted on masonite, 25 1/8 in. x 29 15/16 in. (63.82 cm x 76.04 cm), gift of Cornelius N. Bliss, 1928.55, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

Sketchbook in hand, American-born artist James McNeill Whistler spent countless hours staring out the window of his London home, watching ships pass through the blue waters of the Thames River. Drafting and drawing the wooden beams of bridges, the white flags of ships and the tilted caps of sailors who steered through the water, Whistler produced his masterpieces.

Now, years after Whistler first moved to London in 1859, several of his detailed etchings, drawings and lithographs are on display at the Addison in the exhibit “An American in London: Whistler and the Thames.” Guest-curated by Margaret MacDonald and Patricia de Montfort, both from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, “An American in London” is the first major exhibition to focus on Whistler’s time in London.

“This is an unusual show because we started eight years ago. It started from a germ of an idea here at the Addison because we own one of Whistler’s great paintings of the Thames. It’s ‘Brown and Silver—Old Battersea Bridge.’ The idea was to borrow other works that were related to our painting and put them in an exhibition that would give our painting some context and make it clear why it was an interesting painting,” said Faxon.

Dating from 1863, “Brown and Silver—Old Battersea Bridge” was the first of many works in which Whistler depicted the arches and supports of the structure. The bridge stretches diagonally across the canvas and just as the name suggests, the composition consists of mainly brown and silver hues. Men stand on shore in the foreground while buildings and factories are situated opposite the murky water.
The show also features several pieces from Whistler’s “Nocturnes,” a collection of scenes depicting the Thames after nightfall.

In the renowned “Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Old Battersea Bridge” from 1872, Whistler returns once again to the Battersea Bridge. A lone man in a small boat floats through the river and lights from the buildings in the background are reflected in the calm water. Gold fireworks go off in the sky, adding illumination to the grey and blue shades of the image.

“He’s not [painting them as] it looked, but rather what it felt like. ‘Nocturnes’ has light, dark and shimmering images. And that’s a pretty important contribution from a 19th century artist, since abstraction is the next step. His ‘Nocturnes’ are quite abstract,” said Faxon.

Maps and reproductions of photographs by artists such as James Hedderly and Henry Taunt are scattered throughout the show, providing gallery-goers another glimpse at the London that Whistler was living in.

“For those of who have never seen the banks of the Thames in the 19th century, it’s a pretty good record of where [Whistler] was and what he was trying to do. It’s one of those wonderful things to be able to look at those photographs recording what was there and see what Whistler has chosen or not chosen to include,” said Faxon.

“An American in London: Whistler and the Thames” will be on display in the Addison from February 1, 2014 to April 13, 2014. The exhibition was previously on display in a London gallery and will head to Washington D.C. in May.

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– Peyton McGovern –

Charles Sheeler, Ballardvale, 1946, oil on canvas, museum purchase, 1941-21, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

Featuring snapshots of gritty laborers, hefty metal, massive machines and brick buildings, “Industrial Strength,” one of the new exhibits at the Addison, strives to shed some light on the trials, tribulations and trademarks of industrialization.

Designed to complement another new exhibit, “An American in London: Whistler and the Thames,” “Industrial Strength” displays photographs, paintings and sculptures that depict industrial scenes in a variety of eras. All of the featured pieces are parts of Addison’s permanent collection and depict industrial scenes in a variety of eras.

“It was inspired [by] thinking about the Whistler show and an artist who was inspired by an industrial landscape. So I wanted to look through our collection and see what we had that would speak about industry and industrial landscape,” said Alison Kemmerer, Curator of Art and Photography after 1950, who curated the exhibition.

One of the works in the show is “Sewing Room K.G.R Inc, Lawrence Ma,” a black and white photo shot by Justin Kirchoff, a former Addison Artist-in-Residence. The wide panorama image shows the inside of a women’s suit factory in nearby Lawrence, Mass. The piece plays with contrast: spools of yarn, and bins and piles of clothing are perfectly in focus, while the busy tailors in the factory appear blurry, emphasizing the stress of their jobs.

“I especially like the Justin Kirchoff prints because in those crazy, busy moments, he captures moments of calmness,” said Claire Park ’16.

Another piece in the exhibition is “Ballardvale,” a painting in which the artist, Charles Sheeler, uses vivid red, blue and green hues to capture the different perspectives and shadows of a cluster of buildings. Sharp lines and angles dominate the composition, highlighting the depicted outdoor factory scene.

Placed in the center of one of the galleries in the show, “Elements #15” is one of the show’s few three-dimensional pieces. Created from 1997 to 1998 by Siah Armajani, an Iranian artist, the piece arranges aluminum, steel, bricks and ropes into a structure that is approximately five feet tall by 12 feet wide. The materials form five towers that are connected together at different heights, creating a triangular shape.

“One of the things that our curators do really well is create pairings and juxtapositions of works that allow you to see those works in completely different ways than you would have otherwise,” said Jamie Kaplowitz, Education Associate and Museum Learning Specialist at the Addison.

_Sharan Gill contributed reporting._

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– Sofia Barbosa –

Professor Henry Rowland: Thomas Eakins, Philadelphia, Jul 25, 1844- Jun 1916, Philadelphia PA, Professor Henry A. A. Rowland, 1897, 80 1/4in x 54 in (203.84cm x 137.16cm), oil on canvas, gift of Stephen C. Clark, Esq, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA.

Standing with his back to the maritime scene behind him, a round-stomached and ruddy-cheeked man stares confidently out of the canvas in artist John Greenwood’s photograph of “Man in Green Coat.” The placement of the man’s right hand on his hip and his left hand tucked into his vest highlight the deep emerald green of his coat and the intricate gold embroidery on his white vest.

Placed in an ornate gold frame, “Man in Green Coat” is one of several portraits in another new exhibit, “Artful Poses.” Housing two- and three-dimensional portraits, including self-portraits from the 18th to 21st centuries, “Artful Poses” examines the evolution of the social and artistic contexts in which the portraits were created.

“And as you go in[to ‘Artful Poses’], think about what choices were made. Did the sitter decide he wanted to be in his great brocade with his stomach sticking out and his hand in the pocket or did the artist do it? It’s interesting to think about what the intention of the portrait was. When you think about it that way, [the portraits] are more interesting than whether or not you like the way the person looks or not,” said Susan Faxon, Interim Director and Curator of Art Before 1950 and Curator of “Artful Poses.”

One of the most distinctive pieces in the exhibit is Thomas Eakins’ “Professor Henry A. Rowland” from 1897. Standing at almost nine feet tall, the oil painting depicts Henry A. Rowland, a physicist and Johns Hopkins University professor, who is seated and wearing a somber grey suit. Behind him, his assistant configures a spectrograph, a machine that measures the exact difference between portions of the color spectrum. Rowland is clutching a technicolor device in his hand which relates to the scientific appliance behind him. Eakins shows immense detail in the piece, using light to draw the viewer’s attention to the wrinkles and veins in Rowland’s hand and forehead.

The dark tones of Eakin’s piece contrast with the shiny gold frame it hangs in. Eakin’s created the frame especially for this portrait, embedding math formulas and drawings onto the surface.
“At one point [Eakins] asks Professor Rowland to send him some sheets from his notebooks because Eakins has this idea of making a frame. Eakins is celebrating the hand and mind of this great man by surrounding the depiction of Rowland with his ideas, his sketches, his notes and the stuff that floats through his mind,” said Faxon.

_Sharan Gill contributed reporting._