Exhibitions: Japonisme in American Graphic Art, 1880–1920

James McNeill Whistler: Early Morning

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903). Early Morning, 1878. Lithograph (lithotint) on cream, moderately thick, smooth paper. Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Rembrandt Club, 15.374

A leading figure in the Aesthetic Movement, James McNeill Whistler credited Japanese art with having a profound impact on his own artistic activities, which included painting, printmaking, and interior decoration. Indeed, the Japanese cultivation of beauty in all aspects of material life informed his own “art for art’s sake” philosophy. This sensibility led Whistler to shift from naturalistic representation in his pictures toward more abstract, evocative arrangements of color and form in the late 1860s. In this image of London’s Battersea district across the Thames, the asymmetrical composition and emphasis on the misty atmospheric effects of early light reveal the artist’s debt to Japanese art, transforming the urban industrial landscape into a thing of poetic beauty.