One thing + another thing 3

YouTube has provided much enjoyable entertainment over the past year or so and at present I’m watching some of the long-running University Challenge series. One picture question showed a painting and it was name the artist. I was wrong (and so were the students) but it put me very much in mind of a Japanese artwork. Well, Dr Charles Cramer and Dr Kim Grant were there before me and feature the pairing below on the Smart History website in A-level: Japonisme (as well as many other interesting pairings).

Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge c.1872-5 James Whistler. Presented by the Art Fund 1905. Image: Tate Gallery

shipping oars
I hold my breath to hear
snow on the water

David Steele
from Haiku Ancient & Modern (2002)

The Tate Gallery site notes that Whistler would set off with his oarsmen at twilight and sometimes remain on the Thames all night, sketching and memorising the scene. He never painted his Nocturnes on the spot. The painting was later included in ‘the Graham sale’ at Christie’s in 1886. When it came up for auction it was hissed by the public, a reception Whistler described in a letter to The Observer newspaper as “flattering”.

In an 1877 review of another in the series, Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, the eminent critic John Ruskin wrote: “I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Which led Whistler to sue Ruskin successfully for libel in 1878 and, although he had claimed £1,000 plus costs, Whistler was awarded a farthing. Bankrupted by the court costs, Whistler sold his lavish house in London and went to Venice to work. Read more about the case here.

When The Falling Rocket appeared at the first Grosvenor Gallery exhibition in 1877, along with Battersea Bridge, Oscar Wilde remarked that they were ‘worth looking at for about as long as one looks at a real rocket, that is, for somewhat less than a quarter of a minute’. James Abbott McNeill Whistler lived from 1834 to 1903.

Bamboo Yards, Kyōbashi Bridge by Utagawa Hiroshige (1857), woodblock print. Gift of Louis W. Hill, Jr. Image: Minneapolis Institute of Art

the full moon
I love a night
that simple

Michael McClintock
from Another Trip Around the Sun (2019)

It’s thought that the tall pillars shown on this bridge inspired Whistler’s rather dramatic-looking bridge, while similarities may also be seen between the boatmen and the limited colour palette. The website of the Brooklyn Museum, which has the same print, notes that the figure with the white hat (about centre) carrying a red lantern is a delightful nod of friendship, for on the lantern is the signature of Yokogawa Hori-take, one of the best known woodblock carvers of the day, and who worked with Hiroshige many times. On the left of the print are towering stockpiles of bamboo. Hiroshige’s own home was only a few blocks further on. Hiroshige lived from 1797-1858.

Kyōbashi was the first bridge on the Tokaido Road, south of the Nihonbashi Bridge, in Tokyo with which it shared the jewel-shaped metal rail ornaments known as ‘giboshi’. The bridges leading into the gates of Edo Castle were the only others allowed these ornaments. The ornaments on the Kyōbashi were preserved when the bridge was destroyed in 1965, and are today on front of a nearby police station. 

Earlier one thing + another thing posts covered Van Gogh and M C Escher.


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