- Turner Whistler Monet: Impressionist Visions
With its starting point the creation of an international exhibition, Turner Whistler Monet: Impressionist Visions offers the reader engaging ways of [End Page 284] interpreting artistic relationships across history. Each of the artists pursued his interest in capturing transient atmospheric effects in the context of cities as varied as London, Paris, and Venice. Curator Katharine Lochnan led a team of four essayists, with additional authors contributing to the 106 catalogue entries. The result is a study that sets a high standard, demonstrating the significance of moving beyond national borders that so often inform art writing and the importance of diversifying our understanding of artistic camaraderie and emulation.
In her essay 'Turner, Whistler, Monet: An Artistic Dialogue,' Lochnan reconsiders the term Impressionism and the interdependency of artists who form international relationships. She traces the growing friendship of Monet and Whistler from their first meeting in 1865-67 through their strengthened rapport in the 1880s. Monet followed Whistler's example and studied at the Paris studio of Gallery's Academy and each sought refuge in the other's city: Monet in London during the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) and on several return trips through 1903, while Whistler transplanted himself to Paris first in 1859, retaining his connections to London art circles. Whistler's internationalism jeopardized his role as president of the Society of British Artists (appointed 1886), particularly after he invited Monet to be an honorary member at the Winter Exhibition of 1887, a gesture that ended his leadership. Lochnan emphasizes the parallel pursuits of Whistler, Monet, and Turner through their interest in series, although in different media: Turner in watercolour, Whistler in etching, and Monet in painting, In addition to parallels in artistic practice, Lochnan considers thematic and technical concerns, citing Monet's Impression: Sunrise (1872-73) as an evocation of Whistler's Nocturnes and Turner's sunscapes. Since Turner died in 1851, Monet and Whistler familiarized themselves with works in London collections, a practice facilitated by the increasing exposure of Turner's work into the early twentieth century. The accessibility of works and related tensions are thoroughly examined in Ian Warrell's essay 'Turner's Legacy: The Artist's Bequest and Its Influence.'
John House's contribution, 'Tinted Steam: Turner and Impressionism,' offers new avenues to understanding connections between Turner, Whistler, and Monet. He considers notions of an 'artistic dialogue,' examines the problematic language of artistic 'influence,' and evaluates the complexities involved when seeking to respond to challenges set by an earlier artist. House uses Harold Bloom's conception of influence as a manifestation of anxiety, demonstrating the difficulties of maintaining a sense of 'personal identity in the face of a more powerful predecessor or mentor.' Evaluating 'the Turner myth,' House considers how critics intuitively recognized parallels between contemporary artists and the past. He cites the examples of Chesneau's description of Monet's Impression: Sunrise in 1874 as a 'sunrise on the Thames,' rather than the view of Le Havre, and Kahn's [End Page 285] review from 1904 of Monet's London series including imaginings of the effect of hanging them next to Turner's work.
For Turner, Whistler, and Monet, studying the atmospheric effects of London and Venice enabled them to summarize what they discerned was its essential character. Jonathan Ribner's essay 'The Poetics of Pollution' successfully disabuses us of any romantic notions of the cityscapes as distant from the environmental concerns still plaguing world-class cities. Ribner traces pollutants, specifically in London, to the dense smoke-fed fogs brought on by coal burning (culminating in the 'great fog of 1886') and evaluates how Monet, Whistler, and Turner 'each wrought enduring art from tainted air.' Ribner's research reveals the waterways of London and Venice as vehicles for pollutants fulfilling specifically Whistler's 'curiosity regarding waterside landscapes in transition and decay.'
The study's focus on three artists creates a coherency, although House's examination of Pissarro's work offers an important tension to the structured dynamic, and further consideration would have diversified the international and transcultural...