The Colby Museum is a proud member of the Lunder Consortium for Whistler Studies, a collection of institutions dedicated to nurturing, producing, and disseminating original scholarship and critical analysis of the artist James McNeill Whistler. Each summer, the consortium provides a Colby student with opportunity to intern at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C., another consortium member. While in the capitol, students interested in museum careers are able to apply what they have learned on campus and at the Colby Museum in a new context and continue their development with the incredible staff and fantastic collections of the Freer|Sackler. This past summer, Lunder Intern Francesca Soriano ’16 analyzed a set of Whistler drawings to better understand the artist’s choice of paper. Francesca wrote a reflection of her experiences for the Freer|Sackler’s Bento and we’re pleased to be able to republish it here on The Lantern.
More than 150 years ago, a twenty-four-year-old James McNeill Whistler set off on a summertime journey. He and his friend Ernest Delannoy—both young, aspiring artists—embarked on a road trip through the French and German countryside. Their goal was to visit Amsterdam and pay homage to the revered Dutch painter and etcher Rembrandt van Rijn.
Whistler and Delannoy never made it to Amsterdam; they ran out of money and were forced to return to Paris. But the sojourn gave Whistler an opportunity to observe new scenery and subjects and to develop his artistic style. Throughout the trip, the artist kept a notebook, a visual diary of sorts, which he filled with pencil sketches detailing scenes, people, and places along the way. He produced scores of drawings, some of which he later developed as etchings for his so-called French Set.
This summer, I too traveled in pursuit of art. My journey took me from Colby College in Maine to Washington, DC, for an internship at the Freer|Sackler. When I arrived in June, just a few weeks after graduating with a degree in art history, I began surveying the collection of Whistler’s drawings in media other than watercolor and pastel. The majority of the drawings I looked at were from Whistler’s 1858 trip.
I had extensive background knowledge from my previous experience studying Whistler’s work at the Colby College Museum of Art, a fellow member of the Lunder Consortium for Whistler Studies. This project, however, gave me the new opportunity of handling the works. Emily Jacobson, the museum’s paper conservator, showed me how to handle the art. She then let me work on my own with a headband magnifier and flashlight to conduct what was essentially a forensic examination of each sheet.
One sketch in particular stood out to me: Promenade à Baden, which depicts a group of fashionable people standing near a portico facing a hill. The drawing is on two pieces of paper glued together side by side. The edges are uneven, and the two pieces do not properly align, making the bottom wider than the top. A vertical fold down the middle of the drawing contains three sewing holes, and like the other sketches from Whistler’s 1858 trip, Promenade à Baden has graphite markings on the edges.