by Kelly Burch
---- — Locals have a chance to take in Lowell native James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s study of the Thames River and other scenes in England when “An American in London: Whistler and the Thames” opens at the Addison Gallery of American Art tomorrow night.
The international show comes to Andover as part of the gallery’s winter offerings and runs through April 13. It features more than 70 paintings, prints and drawings created in London by Whistler, who was born in Lowell in 1824 and settled in England in 1859.
“Although Whistler has been the subject of many exhibitions, ‘An American in London’ provides the first focused examination of this important period in his career,” said Susan Faxon, interim director of the Addison.
“We are delighted that the Addison’s ‘Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge,’ which was one of the first paintings Whistler completed after moving to London, will be shown in the context of his other extraordinary work exploring life along the Thames in the Victorian era,” she added.
“Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge” is one of the original 50 paintings purchased before Addison Gallery’s opening in 1931. Faxon said that the idea for the Whistler exhibit arose eight years ago from the museum’s desire to showcase that work. The Addison reached out to Whistler experts and museums around the world to bring “An American in London” to life.
In London, Whistler focused on portraying the city and the river Thames in new ways. He was particularly interested in the bridges that spanned the Thames, the industrial neighborhoods along its banks and the workers who called these areas home. In addition to Whistler’s paintings, prints and drawings, historic photographs of London will be on display to give context to the artwork.
From a historical perspective, Faxon said that Whistler’s importance cannot be overlooked.
“He brought together a whole series of movements that were happening and formed them into one really magnificent body of work,” she said.
“An American in London” features works on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts inBoston; the Metropolitian Museum of Art in New York; The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; the Art Institute of Chicago; Musée d’Orsay in Paris; and the British Museum in London. The exhibit will travel to the Smithsonian Institute after the Addison Gallery show.
In addition to “An American in London,” two other exhibits open tomorrow night at the Addison Gallery. “Industrial Strengths: Selections from the Collection” features works from the gallery’s permanent collection by artists who also found inspiration in the industrial landscape. Artworks from a range of media and time periods are included in “Industrial Strengths,” which also runs through April 13.
“That exhibit pays particular homage to the Whistler exhibition,” Faxon said. “We thought that it would be interesting to choose works from our own collection from artists that portray industrial locations, in much the same way that Whistler portrayed the docks and warehouses on the Thames.”
“Eye on the Collection: Artful Poses,” which runs through March 30, rounds out the winter shows. This exhibit explores the way portraits capture both the presence of an individual and reveal the social and artistic contexts that the work was created in. Pieces range from 18th-century paintings to more modern photographs, all of which use the portrait for artistic and social purposes.
“‘Artful Poses’ is a reflection of the way in which Whistler puts people into context,” Faxon said. “They are pieces that show people engaged in an environment.”
“An American in London” will be of particular interest to people who are familiar with that city, Faxon said.
“In the exhibit, Whistler really documents all the passages of that river as it goes through London,” she explained.
However, she added, the winter exhibits at the Addison Gallery are really accessible to anyone – whether they are art enthusiasts, or just enjoy looking at beautiful things.
“Almost anyone will find these paintings fascinating.”
If You Go What: Opening reception for the winter season. Where: The Addison Gallery of American Art, 180 Main St, Andover (on the Phillips Academy campus). When: Friday, Jan. 31, 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. How: Event is free. For more information call 978-749-4015 or visit the website at www.addisongallery.org.