The Shimmering Hues of Whistler’s Watery Nocturnes
James McNeill Whistler was an American painter who worked mostly in Britain (1834 – 1903). He drew a parallel between music and painting, hence the title ‘Nocturnes’ for this series. The painting of a fireworks display shown above evokes a glorious explosion of sound and melody. His soft and glowing portrayal of light and water recalls the work of Turner, and pre-empts the Impressionists. Yet his delicate use of colour and composition refers to the Japanese art he was so fond of.
While peace descended upon sleeping cities, Whistler was painting these timeless scenes of the misty (and polluted) moonlit banks of the River Thames and the Seine. They seem to me to be ethereal and feminine, and as fragile as the butterfly he made his signature.
Whistler’s technique and the way in which he captures light is reminiscent of Turner; and yet Turner’s paintings are imbued with a wild sense of passion, drama and spirituality, whilst Whistler’s are calm, delicate and composed, but equally as beautiful.