A fascinating show of Whistler’s more intimate art …

Watercolour Date: late 19th century (made) Artist/Maker: Whistler, James Abbott McNeill, born 1834 - died 1903 (artist) Materials and Techniques: Watercolour Credit Line: Given by the Artist's Executrix Museum number: P.19-1934

Westgate. Signed with the butterfly monogram. Copyright : V&A.

Say the name: James Abbott McNeill Whistler and to most it will conjure up a series of  almost abstract experiments he called “Nocturnes” or his famous portrait of his mother  or perhaps, at a push, his society portraits. This exhibition changes all that for me. He really was such an extraordinaire painter and his watercolour sketches have completely won me over.

His friend, Edgar Degas once complained: “Really, Whistler, you behave as though you have no talent”. His point was Whistler didn’t need to cultivate a celebrity status, in so many ways like his younger contemporary and on/off rival Oscar Wilde, the quality of his art was enough.

This thoughtful exhibition concentrates on Whistler’s print making and his watercolours; his sketches and experiments, creating an absorbing journey through this artist’s range of interests whilst showing his increasing mastery of technique. Although the title of the show doesn’t quite match the content, the magical watercolour sketches and Japanese inspired Venetian scenes make the exhibition absorbing and delightful.

I particularly liked the framing of his quick seaside sketches with wide gilded frames giving them a fragile butterfly framed charm all of their own. There was even a page of Whistler doodling his famous butterfly with a sting in its tail – a fascinating motif for such a complicated man.

Whistler and Nature runs until until 16 December at Compton Verney (Tue – Sun 11am – 5pm) and is definitely worth a visit. Then the exhibition goes on tour: at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 8 January to 17 March; the Laing Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, 30 March to 16 June; and finally The Hunterian, University of Glasgow in the Spring of 2020

If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space, permanent exhibitions and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a lovely cafe, an adventure playground for children, and boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.