Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly

Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly

by Marc Simpson, Wanda M. Corn, Cody Hartley, Michael J. Lewis
     
 

“Paint should not be applied thick,” James McNeill Whistler once famously stated. “It should be like breath on the surface of a pane of glass.” Through an innovative manner of handling paint, a group of American artists around 1900 created deceptively simple canvases that convey images of shimmering transience, visions suggested rather than

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Overview

“Paint should not be applied thick,” James McNeill Whistler once famously stated. “It should be like breath on the surface of a pane of glass.” Through an innovative manner of handling paint, a group of American artists around 1900 created deceptively simple canvases that convey images of shimmering transience, visions suggested rather than delineated. Focusing on this singular aesthetic characteristic—softness—Like Breath on Glass explores this painterly phenomenon through works by fifteen important artists, including Whistler, George Inness, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, John Twachtman, and Edward Steichen.

Leading scholars in American art consider a wide variety of topics: the very different motives—technical, social, religious, and scientific—that prompted these artists in their experimentation; their materials; their techniques for creating the appearance of effortlessness; period notions of “the vague” through art and writing; and the revival of "painting softly" in the 1950s and 1960s. This beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated catalogue highlights a surprisingly understudied yet important aspect of American cultural and painterly achievement.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by Choice Magazine
Library Journal

The American artist James McNeill Whistler stated, "Paint should not be applied thick. It should be like breath on the surface of a pane of glass." This catalog of a 2008 exhibition at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, explores this aesthetic as seen in the work of Whistler and other American artists active from 1870 to 1920. These artists, sometimes called tonalists, used thin layers of paint to create soft, indistinct compositions. The introduction by Simpson (curator of American art, Clark Art Inst.) is followed by essays on Whistler, George Inness, a group of younger artists working in a similar manner, and tonalist techniques and materials. The 41 color plates include both paintings and photographs; each work is presented on its own page. Two essays conclude the catalog-the first on abstract expressionist artists who worked much as the tonalists did, and the second on the 1972 exhibition The Color of Mood, which first described tonalism as a uniquely American movement. This informative catalog is highly recommended for art history collections.
—Martha Smith

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300134063
Publisher:
Clark, Sterling & Francine Art Institute
Publication date:
07/28/2008
Pages:
280
Product dimensions:
9.80(w) x 10.60(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Marc Simpson is Curator of American Art at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Art History at Williams College. Wanda Corn is the Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in Art History at Stanford University. Cody Hartley is Assistant Curator of American Art at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Michael J. Lewis is Professor of Art at Williams College. Leo G. Mazow is Curator of American Art at the Palmer Museum of Art and Affiliate Associate Professor at the Pennsylvania State University. Joyce Hill Stoner is Professor and Painting Conservator at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation and Director, University of Delaware Preservation Studies Doctoral Program.

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