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.

Introduction

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

Artifact of the Month – Cigar Case

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The artifact of the month for January is one of the new pieces that came to us last year.  It is a cigar case constructed of two lacquered papier-mâché panels connected with an accordian-like fabric lining.  On one side is an image of Queen Victoria while the other side shows a sailor branding a slave, underneath which is written “Extinction of Slavery–Civilisation of Africa.”

Although not certain of the exact history of this particular cigar case and the purpose for the images, we do know that the image on this case very closely resembles Nathaniel Currier’s lithograph titled “Branding Slaves”.  Nathaniel Currier began the company that eventually came to be Currier & Ives, who were very well known for their lithographs.  It is thought that Currier’s lithograph was based on the painting “Scenes on the Coast of Africa” by François-Auguste Baird, who was an outspoken opponent of slavery and the slave trade.   Read more

Go Figure! (-Queen Victoria)

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Queen Victoria Reigned by George Hayter
Queen Victoria Reigned by George Hayter

Hey everyone! This post I am very excited about because it is my absolute favorite figurehead that we have here in our collection! This figurehead of Queen Victoria not only interests me because of the historical significance of the Queen, but the detail of the carving is beautiful.

The figurehead is in a walking position with her long luxurious dress blowing in the wind, making her look very realistic. She is ordained in jewels and the top of the dress is covered in roses. The Queen is holding an orb, an emblem of sovereignty, which is a dead giveaway that this was in fact a queen. Also another tell-tale sign is the crown atop her head (duh). The detail is incredible on this carving, and even though it is hard to see in the photograph, the artist included a carving of the patron saint of England, St. George. The image shows the saint on horse back slaying the dragon, located just on the waist of Queen Victoria. Back in her day, this figurehead was probably painted all white, but today she remains in a dark greenish-color. She was once displayed in the Great Hall of the Mariners’ Museum, but now remains “Hidden in the Hold.”   Read more