Whistler’s “Nocturne: Blue and Gold…” is melodious and harmonious

Is this a harmonious painting to you? A fragmented gold moon illuminates ghostly ships – do you find it melodic in some way?

I’m leading you on: harmonious and melodic are the adjectives quoted all1 over2 for James McNeill Whistler’s (Whistler from now on) paintings.

Whistler broke with tradition by rejecting painting that emphasized narrative (storytelling). 

He said that paintings should be like music – much like how notes make up a song, harmonious and melodic arrangements (I’m repeating myself) made up his paintings.

Music, per Whistler, doesn’t require a story to give it meaning and art could be enjoyed for its “notes” and “chords.” He even titled his paintings after music with titles like “nocturne,” “arrangement,” and – this strikes me as rather literal – “symphony.”

He’s quoted to have said – and this seems very on-brand – “the vast majority of English folk cannot and will not consider a picture as a picture, apart from any story which it may be supposed to tell.”

Some hated this.

Since when does aesthetic consideration take precedence over realistic observations? Well, since Whistler. He painted the commonplace with mood, color, and form.

Some praised him and I dig it.

This is this Sunday’s Showcase3: Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Southampton Water by John Neill Whistler, oil on canvas.


1 The Art Institute of Chicago

2 Awesome resource: Teacher Manual: American Art 

3 I once wrote, “The Sunday Showcase, not to be confused with “The Sunday Scaries”, literally zooms in on a piece of artwork and shares videos and/or quotes from the artist.” For obvious reasons, I don’t have a video to share of Whistler.