James McNeill Whistler is not the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of modern art. But, in fact, the eccentric 19th-century master was really an ancestor of the movement, who defied his times and contemporaries by planting seeds that would grow into 20th-century cubism and abstraction.
Like many rebels of the time, Whistler suffered criticism for his creative pioneering and never received much of the praise and respect that art historians have granted him posthumously. Whistler's friends, Impressionists Edouard Manet and Claude Monet, were the ones that became household names and primary museum draws.
But Whistler never exactly fell by the wayside, either.
"Whistler has always been iconographic," says Reid Buckley, senior exhibitions manager with International Arts & Artists, the nonprofit leading a tour of paintings from Whistler's personal collection for the first time in history through seven U.S. cities. "He hasn't been overlooked, he's been well-collected and he is well-regarded for being a counterculture artist. He is full of that bohemian allure that artists have always felt toward Europe."
Whistler, who grew up in Massachusetts but moved to Europe for good at age 21, found modest success through his Japanese wood-block print-inspired etchings. Many of the artist's designs and paintings have endured and now hang in Europe as masterpieces.
The works on display at the FAC Modern, taken from his private collection in the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow, Scotland, span 40 years of Whistler's life.
"That Whistler chose to retain these pieces for himself places extra significance on these artworks," says Buckley. "Nowadays, many of these collectibles appear tame, but in those days they were avant-garde."
James McNeill Whistler: Selected Works from the
Hunterian Art Gallery
FAC Modern, 121 S. Tejon St., Suite 100
Opening reception, May 25, 5-8 p.m.; runs May 25 through Aug. 20.
Admission: $3-$5 for non-members; call 633-5583 or visit csfineartscenter.org for hours and more information.