Saturday, March 22, 2014

Daniel E. Sutherland's "Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake"

Daniel E. Sutherland is Distinguished Professor of History, University of Arkansas. The recipient of more than fifty awards, honors, and grants, he is best known for his acclaimed series of books chronicling nineteenth-century America.

Sutherland applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake, and reported the following:
Bizarre as it sounds, the Page 99 formula does seem to work more often than not, and it is so for my biography of James McNeill Whistler. Page 99 of Whistler: A Life for Art’s Sake describes the artist upon his return to London in 1867, after an absence of over a year in South America. The city had changed, as would his relationship with his mistress-muse, an Irish girl named Joanna Hiffernan. During Whistler’s absence, she had gone to Paris to model for a pair of scandalous (that is, nude) paintings by the French artist Gustave Courbet, perhaps, as well, to share Courbet’s bed. Her relationship with Whistler crumbled soon thereafter.

Page 99 is suggestive, too, in that, coming nearly a third of the way through the narrative, it shows Whistler at one of several crossroads in his life. Victorian London was about to become the preeminent city in Europe, having run second best to Paris for several decades. It would also be the city most closely associated with Whistler and his art. It is where he would create his famous “nocturnes,” paint the iconic portrait of his mother, and be honored as a great Master. Indeed, it was during his year in South America that he first experimented with the techniques that would produce those moody nocturnes and tie him thereafter to the “art’s for art’s sake” movement. Whistler had left London because he was frustrated with his progress as a painter and his failure to win popular approval for his work. He returned rejuvenated, with new ideas, and ready to seize the acclaim that had largely eluded him.
Learn more about Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: A Savage Conflict.

--Marshal Zeringue