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Colour-Music: Musical Modelling in James McNeill Whistler's Art

Citation

Teniswood-Harvey, A, Colour-Music: Musical Modelling in James McNeill Whistler's Art (2006) [PhD]

Abstract

This study investigates the influence of Western music on Whistler’s artistic theory and practice. Drawing upon primary sources, it traces Whistler’s lifelong exposure to, and engagement with, music making, and considers the ways in which he translated his musical experiences into pictorial subject matter. Whistler’s use of musical nomenclature and analogy are then examined, within the context of both his personal musical experience and knowledge, and the wider nineteenth-century interest in the interrelations between the visual arts and music. The notions of musical autonomy, art-for-art’s sake and artistic correspondence; the influence of music on colour theory; and the discourse of enthusiasm surrounding Beethovenism and Wagnerism are deemed influential. The dissertation argues that music informed Whistler’s theory and practice in a highly significant manner. The study proposes that the model of pure or absolute music – its autonomy and operations – provided Whistler with a framework to explore, justify and communicate his interest in freestanding pictorial technique. In addition to providing a paradigm for the primacy of formal interest over subject matter, the actual language and experience of music informed Whistler’s pictorial practice. Whistler’s approach to subject matter, colour and composition were all influenced by his musical interest. Building upon the ideas of the American scholar Kermit S. Champa, the study employs and develops an interpretive framework to analyse and discuss Whistler’s use of ‘musical modelling’. This method of enquiry isolates the musical operations evident in Whistler’s art – pulse, rhythm, movement, pace, sequential structure, voicing, counterpoint, attack and decay, harmony, and tonality. Two detailed case studies demonstrate the validity of the musical model in interpreting Whistler’s work. The first proposes a strong link between Franz Schubert’s Moments musicaux, Op. 94, and Whistler’s Six Projects; while the second considers the correspondences between Whistler’s Nocturnes and their musical counterpart. Such analyses offer fresh readings of familiar yet enigmatic images. This dissertation discusses artworks from all the two-dimensional, pictorial media in which Whistler worked. The visual analysis focuses upon images with musical titles and/or subject matter. However, the study provides the groundwork for investigating the ways in which Whistler explored musical modelling in other works. Therefore, the interpretive model demonstrated in this dissertation has widespread application within the field of Whistler scholarship. Additionally, as an interdisciplinary study this project also contributes to the fields of art history, musicology, and Victorian studies, by documenting Whistler’s eclectic patronage of musical events and his friendships with significant figures.

Item Details

Item Type:PhD
Keywords:music, art history, art-for-art’s sake, aesthetic movement, 19th century, interdisciplinary, James McNeill Whistler, Chopin, Schubert, Sarasate, London, Beethovenism, Wagnerism.
Research Division:Studies in Creative Arts and Writing
Research Group:Art Theory and Criticism
Research Field:Art History
Objective Division:Cultural Understanding
Objective Group:Arts and Leisure
Objective Field:The Creative Arts (incl. Graphics and Craft)
Author:Teniswood-Harvey, A (Dr Arabella Teniswood-Harvey)
ID Code:61821
Year Published:2006
Deposited By:Conservatorium of Music
Deposited On:2010-03-07
Last Modified:2010-03-07
Downloads:0

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