A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler vs. Ruskin

Overview

A Pot of Paint reconstructs the lost transcript and revisits the highly contested issues surrounding one of the most celebrated trials in the history of art. A libel suit brought in the London courts by American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler against John Ruskin, England's most powerful art critic, the trial was essentially a debate of aesthetic theory conducted at a critical hour in the evolution of modern art. After viewing an 1877 exhibition that included some of Whistler's most abstract works, ...
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Overview

A Pot of Paint reconstructs the lost transcript and revisits the highly contested issues surrounding one of the most celebrated trials in the history of art. A libel suit brought in the London courts by American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler against John Ruskin, England's most powerful art critic, the trial was essentially a debate of aesthetic theory conducted at a critical hour in the evolution of modern art. After viewing an 1877 exhibition that included some of Whistler's most abstract works, Ruskin declared in print that the artist had flung "a pot of paint in the public's face." He called Whistler a "coxcomb" and said that it was the height of "cockney impudence" to ask two hundred guineas for a painting such as Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket. The dispute was fully covered in the popular press. Using those newspaper accounts, as well as letters, legal papers, Ruskin's instructions to his counsel, and Whistler's later rendition of events in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, Linda Merrill reveals the deeply held, contrary aesthetic ideals of the two parties, and shows that, in many ways, the real litigants in Whistler v. Ruskin were traditional, representational art and art that tended toward abstraction. During eighteen months of pretrial delays and two days of testimony from Whistler and several well-known figures in the art world, London debated the value and the meaning of art. A Pot of Paint retrieves these debates for a society that continues to argue the merits of innovation in art and the place of art in the modern world.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Reconstructs the lost transcript and revisits the highly contested issues surrounding one of the most celebrated trials in the history of art--a libel suit brought in the London courts by American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) against John Ruskin (1819-1900), England's most powerful art critic. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560983002
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Publication date: 5/17/1993
  • Pages: 436
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.99 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
Pt. 1 The Libel 7
The Palace of Art 9
Whistler's Work 19
Ruskin's Review 44
Bringing Suit 57
Plaintiff's Strategy 72
The Defense 95
Final Arrangements 123
Pt. 2 The Trial 133
Introduction 135
Plaintiff's Case 137
Defendant's Case 162
Summations 181
Jury Instructions 188
Verdict 197
Pt. 3 The Verdict 199
Cause Celebre 201
The Losing Side 209
The Value of a Nocturne 217
Figures of Speech 229
Objets d'Art 241
Art and Art Critics 252
Matters of Opinion 263
Consequences and Costs 272
Epilogue 286
Appendix A: Ruskin's Instructions to Defense Counsel 289
Appendix B: Burne-Jones's Statement to Defense Counsel 295
Appendix C: Source Notes to Whistler v. Ruskin 299
Notes 323
Select Bibliography 403
Index 407
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