We’re preparing to bring a little bit of city life to Port Sunlight and the Lady Lever Art Gallery this week as we countdown to the opening of our spring exhibition Whistler & Pennell: Etching the city on Friday 4 May.
Profiling the work of American artists; James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell who made London their home, the exhibition reveals their passion, innovation and influence upon an artistic technique that at the time was in decline.
Featuring 38 prints all from the Walker Art Gallery’s collection, the evocative images capture the changing landscape of two major cities, New York and London (and their surrounding areas), in the final years of the industrial revolution, a stark contrast to Port Sunlight’s leafy avenues built by industrialist and soap magnate William Hesketh Lever.
The exhibition highlights an important period in etching’s history, known as the Etching Revival and considers how both artists championed an unpopular medium.
Whistler’s Thames Set, a group of prints made mostly between 1859 and 1861 include 16 charming etchings showing the hive of activity of life on the river. Ships, sailors, cargo, tides, smoke and warehouses fill the images, and give a sense of how rich the city was in subject matter for an artist keen to experiment and push the boundaries of the medium.
Pennell was a leading American printmaker. Made some 50 years after the Thames Set his series focused upon New York and continued Whistler’s search for a fresh technique and style. Views of early 20th century skyscrapers and Brooklyn Bridge depict a New York visitors may well recognise. The accompanying gritty etchings of neighbouring steel and oil-works give some insight into the industries powering the city’s growth, and the dramatically changing skyline that confronted Pennell on his return to America in 1908.
The artists were friends and shared an interest in the role of architecture, engineering, industry and production but their approaches differed. Whistler’s imagery captured the individual characteristics of the city and its workers, as opposed to Pennell’s, which provides an impersonal and more distant perspective.
Curator of the exhibition, Alex Patterson said:
“Whistler is generally much better known as a painter, so we hope this exhibition will give visitors an opportunity to see a new side to the artist and appreciate his versatility in finding new ways to share his view of the changing world around him.”
The exhibition is drawn entirely from the Walker Art Gallery’s collection of more than 8,000 works on paper, which spans from the early Medieval and Renaissance period to the present day and features works of international significance.
The exhibition is open daily 10am to 5pm from Friday 4 May until 7 October 2018 accompanied by an exciting public events programme of free activities for all ages.
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