July 11, 2017
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Adam and Eve Tavern, 19th century, etching, 9 1/8 x 14 3/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Florence E. Tippets.
Born on this day in 1834, James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American artist who spent his prolific career primarily in the United Kingdom. Heavily influenced by Japanese aesthetics and leaning towards more abstract formal compositions, Whistler began naming his artworks after the language of music—entitling them symphonies, harmonies, nocturnes, and so on. Whistler became a central figure of the Aesthetic movement, which promoted art for arts sake, and he is most famous for winning a libel suit in 1878 against John Ruskin, a British art critic, who had attacked his painting Nocturne in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket (1875). Constantly involved in the innovations of the avant-garde art world in Europe, Whistler was an important contributor to the development of art in his time.
Whistler was also well known for his etchings. Adam and Eve Tavern portrays Whistler’s considerable skill in the graphic arts. Whistler’s foray into etching began as a way to monetarily recover from the 1878 trial, which left him in a financial rut. Though not his main artistic medium, this etching reveals his natural aptitude for it.