whistler: an american in london at the freer gallery

James McNeill  Whistler,  Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights , 1872; oil on canvas

James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights, 1872; oil on canvas

One of the many things I love about my hometown of Washington, DC is the abundant free access to great art. On a recent trip to the US, my husband and I squeezed in one last exhibition at our favorite Smithsonian gallery, the Freer | Sackler, before heading to the airport.

I didn't expect to be so mesmerized by the work - I mean, it's Whistler, so I knew it would be special - but I didn't anticipate what we saw among the etchings, watercolors and oil paintings in the exhibition.

Whistler,  Nocturne Blue and Gold Southampton Water , 1872; oil on canvas

Whistler, Nocturne Blue and Gold Southampton Water, 1872; oil on canvas

His oil Nocturnes are gorgeous. Scenes along the rainy, dreary, industrial 19th century Thames are transformed into abstract, minimalist, glowing color, highly influenced by Japanese woodcut prints. Fittingly, paintings and woodcuts by Kobayashi Kiyochika are juxtaposed in a separate exhibition on the same floor.

Detail,   Sumida River by Night,   Kobayashi Kiyochika; Japan, 1881; Woodblock print

Detail, Sumida River by Night, Kobayashi Kiyochika; Japan, 1881; Woodblock print

Whistler's relationship to the Freer | Sackler was another surprise. Charles Freer met Whistler in 1890 when, on his first trip to London, he visited the artist's Chelsea studio. A long and fruitful friendship ensued, and with Whistler's encouragement and cooperation, Freer built the largest collection of his works in the world. Not bad to have a patron build a museum for your work!

Whistler,  Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge , 1875; oil on canvas

Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge, 1875; oil on canvas

An American in London held special significance for my husband and me, as we prepare for a relocation to London this fall. With beauty like this to look forward to, it seems like a good move.