James McNeill Whistler – The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

Whistler-Nocturne_in_black_and_gold

James McNeill Whistler is mainly known these days as a painter, albeit one sometimes found in books of witty quotations reprimanding Oscar Wilde for plagiarism, but at the time of his death he was arguably better known for this scandalous book in which he recounts in biting, sarcastic detail  his libel case against John Ruskin for describing the above painting ‘Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket’ as “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”

With 117 years distance, it’s clear that Whistler has history on his side here – but while this is of some benefit to the paintings, it makes the book into a painful slog. We know that figurative painting is a perfectly valid artform, and reading through hundreds of pages of newspaper letters and court transcripts is unlikely to either sway or entertain even the most ardent fan.

James McNeill Whistler – The Gentle Art of Making Enemies
James McNeill Whistler – The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (full text at Project Gutenberg)