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

“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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300134063
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 07/28/2008
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 9.80(w) x 10.60(h) x 1.30(d)

About 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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