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Nocturne: The River at Battersea

19th century
28.2 cm x 37 cm (11 1/8 in. x 14 9/16 in.)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (Lowell (Massachusetts), 1834 - 1903, London) Primary

Object Type: print
Artist Nationality: North America, American
Medium and Support: Lithotint with scraping, printed in grayish-black ink on grayish-blue laid paper, mounted on wove paper
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Teaching Collection of Marvin Vexler, '48, 1997
Accession Number: 1997.21

James McNeill Whistler spent much of his career working in London, whose dense urban landscapes were a frequent theme for this master of evocative realism. From his home in the riverside neighborhood of Chelsea, he could easily see the industrial tracts of Battersea on the opposite shore.
During the 1870s he developed the type of image for which he became best known—the evening landscape, or nocturne—in scores of oil paintings and lithographs. Nocturne: The River at Battersea is among his first and most successful experiments in lithography, which allows both fluidity of expressionistic effects and the rendering of specific detail.
Whistler and his printer, Thomas Way and Son, pushed the limits of lithography’s expressive potential when they developed the lithotint, a method that produces subtle areas of tone by applying a fine aerosol spray of lithographic ink directly on the stone. The atmospheric effects of this haunting image, in which buildings seem to reflect and dissolve in the dusky light, were enhanced by the new technique. Whistler’s use of a cool, blue-gray paper underscores the romantic mood of the scene, reinforcing its dreamlike quality and the musical allusions of its title.

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