Under the Influence of Empire: Whistler’s Naval Review Etchings

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Blogger’s Note:  This post has been adapted from the research I did for my MA qualifying project, and I hope it will help to familiarize you with not only my work but my style. A major reason I’ve been drawn to Whistler’s work is the pervasive interest in waterscapes and watercraft shown throughout his corpus. As I’ll begin to unpack here, too, his work and biography are deserving of more critical attention. Historical figures are rarely as simpleor as innocentas they are often made out to be.


James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), an American expat and major figure of nineteenth-century European and American art, was and remains best known for his disavowal of the more communicative functions of art in favor of what he espoused as “art for art’s sake,” an idea he preached publicly and vociferously. Whistler has also been noted for his big, entertaining, if also irascible, personality, a reputation he carefully cultivated. His biography is littered with coming-to-blows episodes with patrons and colleagues. Whistler actually published the correspondence from these episodes in a memoir of sorts, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. Often described as “cosmopolitan,” Whistler’s transnationalism certainly did inform his artwork, not least through his sometimes-radical adaptations of East Asian aesthetics. One aspect of his career that has been overshadowed by his flamboyant personality and artistic innovations is that Whistler was an artist in an age of empire. The effects and influence of imperialism were not only formative but informed some key works of his mature career. These key works include the etchings in his Naval Review set from 1887.   Read more

Landlocked No More

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Me in 2019 with a cardboard cutout of George Stout at the premiere of the documentary Stout Hearted.

Hi everyone! My name is Morgan Brittain. I’m thrilled to be joining The Mariners’ Museum and Park team as a Graduate Assistant from the William & Mary American Studies PhD program. I’ll be working in the Archives, helping to provide greater online access to our collections, during these unprecedented times of COVID-19 and beyond. Throughout this process, I’ll be blogging a lot, and I hope we’ll get to know each other a bit in the coming months. I look forward to reading and responding to your comments. For today, though, I’d simply like to introduce myself a bit.

I hail from Iowa, middle (depending on who you ask) of the Midwest. Specifically, I’m from Winterset, a town of 5,000 with Hollywood claims to fame. It’s the birthplace of John Wayne, setting of The Bridges of Madison County (both the film site and the structures themselves), and home town of Monuments Man George Stout (immortalized by George Clooney as Frank Stokes). I loved growing up there for a lot of reasons, but probably most of all for its history, visual richness, and access to the outdoors.   Read more