Whistler and Pennell

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Evocative prints of industrial age New York and London at the Lady Lever

Work by two of the most influential and innovative etchers, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell, goes on display at the Lady Lever Art Gallery from 4 May to 7 October 2018.

Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City features 38 prints. Together these images capture the changing landscape of two major cities, New York and London (and their surrounding areas), in the final years of the industrial revolution.

The exhibition also highlights an important period in etching’s history, known as the Etching Revival. The exhibition considers how both artists championed a medium which had been in a state of decline and their motivation to create a definitive technique and style.

One room places Whistler’s work in particular into context, and examines the role of key people such as Sir Francis Seymour Haden - who was important in redefining etching as an original art medium in Britain - and French artist, Charles Meryon, as significant influences on Whistler.

The second section of the exhibition features the Thames Set, a group of prints made mostly between 1859 and 1861 when the artist first moved to London. These 16 charming etchings show the hive of activity of life on the river. Ships, sailors, cargo, tides, smoke and warehouses fill the images, and give a sense of how rich the city was in subject matter for an artist keen to experiment and push the boundaries of the medium.

The final room focuses on Pennell, Whistler’s life-long friend and biographer. Described as the "pictorial laureate of the last phase of the industrial revolution", Pennell was a leading American printmaker. Made some 50 yearsafter the Thames Set this series explores how Pennell’s work continued Whistler’s search for a fresh technique and style. Views of early 20th century skyscrapers and Brooklyn Bridge depict a New York visitors may well recognise. The accompanying gritty etchings of neighbouring steel and oil-works give some insight into the industries powering the city’s growth, and the dramatically changing skyline that confronted Pennell on his return to America in 1908.

The artists shared an interest in the role of architecture, engineering, industry and production but their approaches differed. Whistler’s imagery captured the individual characteristics of the city and its workers, as opposed to Pennell’s, which provides an impersonal and more distant perspective.

This exhibition also explores the lives of both American artists and their motivations for immigrating to Britain in the second half of the 19th century.

Curator of the exhibition, Alex Patterson said:

“The prints in this exhibition are small in dimension but bursting with the bustle, life and energy of two major cities going through extraordinary growth and change. It is fascinating to compare the work of the two artists whose approach differed but who shared a passion and a belief for the medium of etching.

“Whistler is generally much better known as a painter, so we hope this exhibition will give visitors an opportunity to see a new side to the artist and appreciate his versatility in finding new ways to share his view of the changing world around him.”

The exhibition is drawn entirely from the Walker Art Gallery’s collection of more than 8,000 works on paper, which spans from the early Medieval and Renaissance period to the present day and features works of international significance.

The development of the Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City exhibition was supported by a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from the Art Fund.

Watermark, an ongoing project to create an online gallery of the Walker’s works on paper, is funded by the Molly Tomlinson Bequests. www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/watermark

The exhibition is accompanied by an exciting public programme of free activities for all ages. 



Free entry                                  
Open daily 10am-5pm 
Lady Lever Art Gallery
Port Sunlight Village, Wirral, CH62 5EQ
Telephone 0151 478 4136



Notes to Editors

About the Lady Lever Art Gallery

The Lady Lever Art Gallery houses one of the UK’s greatest collections of fine and decorative art.

An extensive programme of restoration and improvement has been completed at the South End of the Gallery. The £2.8m project enabled 500 square metres of gallery space to be transformed.

The galleries have been returned to their original architectural design and more than 1,500 objects have been redisplayed, including the best collection of Wedgwood jasperware in the world, one of the finest collections of Chinese porcelain in Europe and outstanding 18th century paintings, furniture and sculpture.

The scheme was funded through donations, corporate sponsorship and major grants. This includes generous grants from the following donors: The Heritage Lottery Fund, Lord Leverhulme Charitable Trust, DCMS/Wolfson Museums & Galleries Improvement Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation, Headley Trust, J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust, Granada Foundation, The Henry Moore Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement, 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust and Charles Hayward Foundation.

For more information on the project, visit www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/leverplans

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk @heritagelottery

About National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool comprises eight venues, including some of the most visited museums in England outside of London. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic. We attract three million visitors every year. Our venues are the Museum of Liverpool, World Museum, the Walker Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, Border Force National Museum, Sudley House and the Lady Lever Art Gallery. 

National Museums Liverpool is regulated by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).  Museums and galleries regulated by DCMS are exempt charities under Schedule 3 of the Charities Act 2011. Registered Office: World Museum, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EN.