Nocturnes - Curator's Talk with Dr. James Murphy July 05 2017

Whistler in the Dark: Nocturnes and the Beginnings of Modernism

Friday, July 14, 11 AM

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, an American artist living in Britain, was influenced by music and, in turn, influenced the music of his times. In the late nineteenth century he suggested that works of art should function as musical compositions, through evocation rather than description.

It was through his nocturnes that he came closest to realizing this progressive idea. He said, “By using the word 'nocturne' I wished to indicate an artistic interest alone, divesting the picture of any outside anecdotal interest…” His break with the highly detailed narrative paintings of his contemporaries raised the ire of critics, and one nocturne in particular became the focus of a celebrated trial that would change the course of art history.

Dr. Murphy looks at the controversy and its aftermath in both American and European painting, as well as how the theme of the nocturne continued to evolve over the decades in style and content. The talk will finish with a look at contemporary expressions of the nocturne, including examples on view in the current exhibition.

About the Curator:
Dr. Murphy was the first program director of Atlantic Center for the Arts and served as Executive Director of the Society for Photographic Education. He has been an independent curator to arts organizations and is the author of reviews, articles and catalogue essays. He has held full-time faculty positions at the University of Alabama, Stetson University, and Florida State University, where he served as chairman of the Department of Art. He holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Art History from Florida State University.