'James McNeill - Whistler, The Case for Beauty'
(DVD / NR / 2014 / PBS)
Overview: Best known for the groundbreaking portrait of his mother, James McNeill Whistler was the original art star. But beneath the high gloss, the struggle of this genius to find his own voice resulted in a breakaway style that moved painting towards abstraction and would revolutionize the art world in his time-and beyond.
DVD Verdict: 'James McNeill - Whistler, The Case for Beauty' traces Whistler’s artistic life from his birth in America and his formative years in Russia, where he first began to draw, and on to Paris in his early youth, living the life of a bohemian artist. After Paris, Whistler finally landed in the Chelsea neighborhood of London in the 1850s.
As an American in London, he could mingle with the lower and upper-classes. He was working in an art world that was benefiting from an increasingly wealthy middle class who saw art as an opportunity to purchase the appearance of aristocracy. Famous for his patent leather shoes, monocle and uptown swagger, Whistler’s theatrics attracted the curiosity of buyers and the attention of the critics.
The program examines how Whistler’s unique Sunday breakfasts at his studio ensured that the boisterous artist, and his art, would remain the talk of the town. The documentary also looks at his volatile nature and the bold letters to the press that earned Whistler notoriety. By the time of his death, Whistler had become one of the most recognized artists in Europe. He is now placed in the first rank of modern painters, his work compared to that of Velázquez and Rembrandt.
Major funding for 'James McNeill - Whistler, The Case for Beauty' is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. You will want to repeat view this presentation as it moves too fast to think about what you are watching sometimes. That's not always a bad thing, especially when the documentary gets a little "heavy" in the culture that Whistler was subjected to growing up, but it could have slowed down at other more interesting-to-know-points, that's all. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.