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Friday, 23 September 2011

James McNeill Whistler: Playing with Fire

The small ground floor gallery at Lyme Regis Museum was once again packed yesterday afternoon for one of the Museum's ever-popular talks! This one saw Sandra Lello (left) give a fascinating talk on the subject of James McNeill Whistler: Playing with Fire.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Whistler came to Lyme Regis in 1895 at the age of 61, by which time he was one of the country's best known artists. His arrival in Lyme caused quite a stir — partly due to his flamboyant appearance and larger than-life personality, and partly because of his by-then notorious reputation. He had been involved in a number of high-profile libel cases and as a result had lost most of his money!

The reason for Whistler's visit was rather sad — his young wife had a serious illness and it was believed the sea air would aid her recovery. Unfortunately this was not the case, and she died soon after. One thing that did recover, however, was Whistler's artistic reputation. While in Lyme he painted a couple of late masterpieces, including "Little Rose" (below left) as well as producing a number of engravings of the town (below right).
The model for "Little Rose" was a local girl named Rosie Rendall, who was about eight years old at the time. The distinctly sullen expression on her face may be due to the fact that it always took Whistler an inordinately long time to paint his pictures. This was partly due to his use of a scumbling technique, adding layer upon layer of very thin colour to produce a transparent effect, and partly to his habit of adding just a tiny dab of paint at a time, and then standing back to admire his work from a distance!

For further information on Lyme's artistic heritage, see the Writers and Artists page of the main website. If you're interested in attending one of the many excellent talks held at the Museum, see the Events page.

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