Off the Beaten Path: Early Works by James McNeill Whistler
Early in his career, Whistler cared little about subject matter; he painted people and drew scenes indiscriminately. Even as his range of themes became more focused over the years, his style continued to evolve, building upon the formal elements he had explored in the late 1850s. By the 1870s and 1880s, Whistler developed a pictorial vocabulary that included chiaroscuro and cross-hatching to define details and lend depth to such recurring motifs as light-filled doorways.
Over the next thirty years Whistler honed the stylistic and compositional choices with which he had experimented on his Rhineland journey. Those efforts resulted in the urban architecture and views of water found in the Venice and Amsterdam series seen here. Stylistically, these later works depart from Whistler’s interest in seventeenth-century Dutch art. Tight cross-hatching gives way to looser, more suggestive lines while his use of a narrow perspective becomes more refined. As is evident in The Kitchen from 1858 and again in The Beggars from 1879-1880, Whistler continued to turn to similar compositional elements as the decades progressed.