After seeing Theodore Roussel’s watercolor The Thames Embankment, Chelsea at a London gallery in 1885, the already well-established James McNeill Whistler requested an introduction to the younger artist. Their meeting sparked more than a decade of professional collaboration that included side-by-side working sessions and camaraderie in both public and private settings. As a result of this communal creativity, Whistler, Roussel, and their artistic circle made remarkable technical and aesthetic developments in lithography and color etching. This exhibition—built around the Art Institute’s exceptional holdings of works on paper by Whistler and a recent major gift of works by Roussel—offers a new perspective on this artistic network and the resulting innovation through 175 objects, including etchings, lithographs, drawings, paintings, and artist-designed frames.
Displayed throughout the Jean and Steven Goldman Prints and Drawings Galleries in the Richard and Mary L. Gray Wing, the exhibition demonstrates the creative impact of the group’s shared network of models, studio assistants, poets, and critics. Related works by various members of this network—from the museum’s permanent collection as well as private collections and the Terra Foundation for American Art—are enhanced and given context by the inclusion of correspondence, historical ephemera, and surviving etching plates, presenting a full picture of the creative exchange and invention that characterized this 19th-century artistic community.
Accompanying the exhibition is an interactive digital component, available both in the galleries and also on the Art Institute’s website, which gives visitors the opportunity to explore the extent of interconnection among the members of Whistler and Roussel’s network. Each artist is represented by a portrait image, a brief biography, and a list of related works, while different layers of the interface illustrate how various members of the network were connected through professional, familial, or other social relationships. A digital publication—aimed at Whistler enthusiasts, students of 19th-century art, and those more broadly interested in the history of artistic collaboration—provides additional insight into the exhibition.