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Readings, and Related Inspirations

Whistler v Ruskin

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Before I dive into the note card version of the Whistler v Ruskin trials, I thought it might be helpful to remind you why you already know who James Abbott McNeil Whistler is.

Whistler's Mother

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (A.K.A. "Whistler's Mother") James Abbott McNeill Whistler American painter/etcher (1834-1903) 1871 Musee d'Orsay, Paris Oil on canvas

Whistler was a 19th century American-turned-British painter who was immensely affected by the Mechanical Age – which you will remember from our conversation today on Benjamin. A respected painter of the Victorian era, Whistler began in the Academy, but his style became increasingly impressionistic as he matured.

John Ruskin was the son of a merchant, and as a result, was exposed to ‘high art’ from an early age. Heavily influenced by the socioeconomic shifts of the Mechanical Age, where lower classes were beginning to be able to afford to commission art, Ruskin became involved in the aesthetic and moral debates that arose from this shift. He also had great mutton chops.

John Ruskin - 1850's


Around mid-19th-century, the Impressionistic movement was taking hold in Britain. Largely considered to look purposefully effortless, critics hated it and argued against “art for art’s sake”.

About his 1877 painting “Nocturne in Black and Gold” (below), Whistler was called an ‘imposture’ by Ruskin. Feeling his reputation was damaged by Ruskin’s criticisms and name-calling, Whistler took Ruskin to court. The trial was something of a mockery. Whistler won a farthing in damages, and the whole ordeal changed the philosophy of art in the mechanical age, and all the ages since.

It's Fireworks!

Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold The Falling Rocket


For more details on the trial see:

Whistler v. Ruskin: Morality in Art Versus Aesthetic Theory
by: Erin Landry

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2 thoughts on “Whistler v Ruskin

  1. Valerie, I wanted to like this post, but-
    nm, just found the button. I’m a big Whistler fan, liked the nocturne painting. The only stuff I’ve seen from him was more the realist, like his grandmother painting.

    Are there art archives with high-res images that you know of? I like to scroll through that stuff every so often, just find new paintings. Fan of the mechanical reproductions, I suppose…

  2. Okay, so – it’s a little complicated, but if you go to GSU library page, click on A on the databases list – then scroll down to artstor. You’re have to sign onto the library to access it.

    Artstor is the BOMB!!! Once you’re in, go to Artstor Digital Library and you can find pretty much whatever you want in there. I just went there to try to make sure it works and I don’t think my internet signal is strong enough where I am – but it should work.

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