Making a Mark: James McNeill Whistler, the Musée du Luxembourg, and World Impressionism
A Recent-PhD Lecture by Alexis Clark
Visiting Assistant Professor, Art History & Visual Culture, Denison University
In the annals of art history, the Musée du Luxembourg has been best remembered for its beleaguered and ultimately botched acceptance of the Caillebotte Bequest, which transferred dozens of Impressionist paintings and pastels to the French state. Despite its reluctance to accept that collection, the Luxembourg promoted Impressionism to bolster its international reputation. Between 1894 (the date of the Bequest) and 1904 (the date of James McNeill Whistler’s death), the museum worked to write a world history of Impressionism. Whistler played a key role in that story, narrated on the museum walls and in its exhibition catalogues: his impressionist tache (mark) defied tendencies to classify nineteenth-century art on strictly national lines. This talk traces the circulation of Whistler’s Arrangement in Black and Grey No. 1 across European and American exhibitionary networks, which led the artist and his oeuvre to be alternately and simultaneously classified as American, British, and French.