20 Jul A process of exception: James McNeill Whistler contro John Ruskin
In the climate of the middle class and respectable Victorian London of late ‘800, witnessing a process of extraordinary importance for the history of art.
The 15 November 1878, in Corte d’Assise, before the Baron Huddleston and a special jury, held the hearing of the case against Ruskin Whistler. This procedure oppose saw two very different from each other: the painter dandy, American by birth, James McNeill Whistler e il critico affermato,rich socialist and wordy moralist, John Ruskin. Different personalities which correspond to different conceptions of art and the role of the artist.
Whistler had summoned Ruskin for libel following a critical, although not too violent in terms, was still made by a man of enormous influence on the audience of his time; Ruskin was, at the time, the height of his fame as a critic: is a professor at Oxford, writes for newspapers most renowned, is present in all the aristocratic salons of London, his views are, therefore, accepted by most as incontrovertible judgments.
The struggle between these two strong personalities concerned the painting of Whistler Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (The fall of fireworks, Night in Black and Gold), exposed in 1877 alla Grosvenor Gallery, framework that sparked outrage Ruskin who judged: a pot of paint in the public’s face, a can of paint in the public’s face. The painting in question is a kind of anticipation of abstract painting: in fact follow a clear break from the traditional practice of painting, as to be ahead of thirty years painting absolute of Kandinsky.
Whistler, rather than surrender to the glittering calligraphy brush, prefers large homogeneous patches, the composition ranges and angles, voluptuously savoring the pleasure of working with surfaces empty and almost monochrome. The author reveals his positions now definitely antithetical to’Impressionism, from which, however, was strongly influenced, freeing the artwork from any intent or anecdotal realistic.
In Whistler freedom of brushwork has a function naturalistic, but it becomes a sort of ploy to arouse emotions, to recall, thanks splash golden creating an elegant arrangement with the various shades of blue and black background, the analogy of the sparks of festive fireworks.
Fabric, in addition to biting criticism of Ruskin, also caused a stir in the audience at the exhibition which, accustomed to traditional subjects, stated that the work would be same even turning on the contrary, such was his artistic senselessness.
The exhibition inaugurated the newly Grosvenor Gallery, founded by Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife Blanche, to satisfy their innate impulse of generosity patronage. The opening ceremony was a success of elegance and sophistication worldly, illuminated by the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The works on display reflect the decorative style of the time, with allegorical subjects depicting young people in costumes and classic shape with titles evoking goddesses and nymphs. In such a context, it is possible to understand the general dismay that aroused the canvases of the eccentric and controversial Whistler. He, indeed, introduced a number of nightclubs in London which turned outrageously rude in the eyes of those who were accustomed to very different levels of formal definition.
The 2 July 1877, in Fors Clavigera, the famous art historian and critic John Ruskin wrote the following judgment on the painting of Whistler: “[…] For the benefit of Mr. Whistler no less than for the Protection, Sir Coutts Lindsay would not have to admit Gallery works in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so that along with the appearance of a deliberate imposture. Before now I’ve seen and heard so much of that cockney impudence,but I never expected that a buffoon ask two hundred guineas for banging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”
Whistler, infuriated by the damage received to its reputation and fame as a painter, dragged to court the art critic with a claim for compensation of one thousand pounds plus court costs. It appears from the, transcribed by Whistler in 1890 in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (The art of creating enemies courteous), shows the perverse and obtuse need critic Ruskin, in this case also a failed artist, to judge a work exclusively following their traditional canons, privileging realism stale and academic, the strenuous defense of a finished and accomplished art that leave nothing to the imagination and inventiveness of execution.
Whistler challenges the role of official criticism, and his inability to speak of an art that does not belong: only the artist is granted this role, as creator he is also the only person able to reveal the intimate truth of his work. “Contesterei not in any way the technical critique of a man who has spent his life practicing science coming under criticism; but I would have little respect for the opinion of a man whose life did not take place in these terms, as you would do in matters of law. […] Not only when the criticism is prevented that I find to object, but even when it is incompetent. I believe that no one but the artist can be a competent critic.”
Are not exclusively the incompetence of Ruskin and his blindness to be called into question, As his taste lingered. In the classroom you play, In fact, an episode of quarrel between the old and the modern Whistler and acts as a scout un’avanguardi aesthetics in foreign territory.
The trial is a kind of elegant and subtle verbal duel that, stocked with murderous and sharp, raises problems which then become central in the course of the twentieth century: the antagonistic relationship between the militant critics and art in the making and the full acceptance of the artist as intellectual production of the company and not as a buffoon to scramble.
The jury, at the end, ailing from the matter of the dispute and touched by the ridiculous, opted for a Solomonic judgment that proved disastrous for both sides. Condemned, indeed, Ruskin to compensation for a nickel without encumber court costs that had to be well supported both by the critic that the painter. Ruskin withdrew from public life and resigned from the post of professor. Whistler, victorious publicly but won economically, fled to Venice where he will perform the magnificent etchings, on his return to London, will be judged in no less contemptuous by many other critics. Also gave the legal order, alla his death, the night never to be exposed in Britain.
“Allow therefore that the works are received in silence, as in the times that the virtuous pen still indicate that the Golden Age of Art. And here we come to the often repeated apology existence of critical and discover how ridiculous. He is labeled as the scab necessary to the health of the painter and writes that can be beneficial to his art. With the same ink laments the decadence that is around and declares that the best works were made when he was not there to help. Do Not, allowed that there are no critical! They are not a necessary evil, but bad completely superfluous, although certainly bad.”
(J. McNeill Whistler, “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”, 1890)