Whistler and Pennell at Sudley House

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Final display of popular etchings of London and New York

Works by two of the most influential and innovative etchers, James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell, go on final display at Sudley House from 5 July 2019 to March 2020.

Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City features more than 30 prints. Together these images capture the changing landscape of two major cities, New York and London in the final years of the industrial revolution.

The exhibition travels to Sudley following a popular stint at Lady Lever Art Gallery where it was seen by more than 65,000 people. These fragile works on paper are light-sensitive and can only be displayed for short periods of time to preserve them. The exhibition at Sudley House is likely to be the last time these prints will displayed collectively for the next 10 years

Curator of the exhibition, Alex Patterson said:

“The prints in this exhibition are bursting with detail, showing the bustle and energy of two major cities experiencing extraordinary growth and change. It is fascinating to study the work of two great artists who admired the working life of the metropolis and shared a passion and a belief for the medium of etching.”

“It will also be interesting to consider the exhibition in the context of the Holt family, who prospered as ship owners during the industrial revolution and were avid art collectors, in their family home, Sudley House, full of fantastic artworks and great views over Liverpool.”

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

Whistler was one of the most prominent artists of his day, famous for his celebrity, wit and eccentric personality. By 1859 Whistler had made London his home. Fascinated by the bustling working life of the River Thames, he began etching the scenes known as the ‘Thames Set’. Created from 1859, they were immediately popular with art critics and collectors. These fascinating 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.  A few years later the Thames was transformed. Many buildings were replaced by new embankments, and the activities of river life changed forever.

Described as the "pictorial laureate of the last phase of the industrial revolution", Pennell was a leading American printmaker, famous for his etchings of New York City. He travelled to London in 1884 and became Whistler’s life-long friend and trusted biographer. Although born a generation apart, Whistler was the inspiration of Pennell’s life.  

In 1908 Pennell returned to New York. He was astounded by the skyscrapers and how much the skyline had changed. Pennell also recorded the neighbouring steel and oil-works which give great insight into the industries powering the city’s growth.

Made some 50 years earlier, Whistler’s Thames etchings, combined with Pennell’s depictions of New York City record the progress of the industrial revolution on both sides of the Atlantic.

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

The works in this exhibition are 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



Notes to Editors

About Sudley House

In Sudley House visitors can see the only surviving Victorian merchant art collections in Britain still hanging in its original location. It is also one of a few period homes in the country decorated in Victorian style, still with many of its original features. Located in the leafy suburbs of south Liverpool, Sudley is the former home of Victorian shipping merchant George Holt, whose passion for art saw him adding some world renowned works to his collection, which can still be seen today. Works on display include paintings by major Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Rossetti, Holman Hunt and Millais, along with paintings by Landseer, Turner, and a group of 18th-century portraits by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney and Leighton.

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 attracted more than 4m visitors in 2018. Our venues are the Museum of Liverpool, World Museum, the Walker Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, Seized! (UK Border Force National Museum), Sudley House and the Lady Lever Art Gallery.