The James Whistler and Russia exhibition


The James Whistler and Russia exhibition was held at the State Tretyakov Gallery between December 8, 2006 and February 15, 2007 with the support of the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation. It became a key event in the course of the museum’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American-born, British-based artist, one of the key predecessors of impressionism and symbolism. From 1843 to 1848 he lived in St. Petersburg where his first exposure to fine arts took place. He went on to maintain a close connection to Russian culture for the rest of his life. Mr. Whistler called Russia the “cradle” of his talent.

Exhibits from more than twenty museums as well as private collections from the UK and the United States, were presented at the James Whistler and Russia exhibition, many shown in Moscow for the first time. The exhibition was designed to reveal to the audience the special role Russia played in the artist’s life. The public in Moscow were able to see his famous “Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander” brought over from the Tate Gallery in London, “Arrangement in Gray and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle” delivered to Russia from the Art Collection of the Glasgow City Council as well as “Arrangement in Black No. 2: Portrait of Mrs. Louise Huth”, “Harmony in Brown: The Felt Hat”, “Arrangement in Black No 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain”, others of the artist’s paintings and graphic masterpieces, including several lesser-known sketches, are now kept in the Hermitage and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.

The section headed, “The Whistler Family in Russia” was devoted to the years spent by the future artist and his family in St. Petersburg and contained memorable exhibits, photographs, and views of St. Petersburg and its neighbourhoods.

A special part of the exhibition was occupied by works of Russian artists whose creative work a young James Whistler got acquainted with while in Russia and which had a particularly strong impact on the future master. So paintings by M.N.Vorobyov, Ivan Aivazovsky, and K.P. Bryullov were also presented at the James Whistler and Russia exhibition.

Being one of the leading cosmopolitan aesthetes of the late 19th century, by the early 20th century James Whistler was widely recognized in Russia as a bright public figure in fine arts, as well as a reformer of book, interior and exhibition designs.

The impact of James Whistler’s creative work on Russian artists at the turn of the 20th century was reflected in the exhibition’s section “James Whistler and Russian artists” where paintings by K. Korovin, I. I. Levitan, V. Serov, I. E. Repin, and A. Ostroumova-Lebedeva, a Russian student of the artist were exhibited.

The James Whistler and Russia exhibition was a continuation of the century-old history of close relationships between the artist and the Russian public, which was initiated with the first exposition organized by Sergei Diaghilev in distant 1897-1899. In 1958 some paintings by James Whistler were shown in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts at an exhibition of works transported to the USSR during the Great Patriotic War. And in 1960, four paintings by the artist were included in the exhibition “Painting in the UK: 1700-1960”.

The James Whistler and Russia exhibition was attended by about 200,000 visitors.

An exhibition album-catalogue of the same name was made specially for the event in both Russian and English.