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James Whistler by Douglas Skeggs


Whistler. (1834-1903)

“The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”

Self assured, affected and irreverent, the owner of a razor sharp wit, Whistler scandalised London society during the 1870's. American by birth, he trained as an artist in Paris where his bohemian lifestyle made him one of the personalities of the city. Annoyed by the criticisms of his work at the Salon des Refuses he moved to London only to find the English even more opposed to his ideas. When John Ruskin savaged one of his Nocturnes in an article, accusing him of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”, Whistler took him to court where he scored a moral victory, received a farthing in damages and ruined himself financially.

  The lecture explores the paradox of this man whose flamboyant and eccentric ways made him both admired and detested in equal measure and yet whose quiet, meditative paintings, in which more is suggested than actually seen, ultimately assured him a place alongside Oscar Wilde as one of the high priests of the Aesthetic Movement.


Douglas Skeggs read Fine Art at Magdalene College Cambridge and has been a lecturer on paintings since 1980. In that time he has given over 4000 lectures to universities, colleges and art societies. He was the director of  'The New Academy of Art Studies' for three years and is presently a regular lecturer at 'The Study Centre', 'Christie's' course 'The History of Art Studies' and other London courses. Among his more improbable venues for lectures are the bar on the QE2, MI5 headquarters, the Captain's Room at Lloyds, and an aircraft hanger in a German NATO base. Overseas he has lectured in Belgium, France, Germany and Spain, and has taken numerous tours around Europe. He helped set up the Abercrombie & Kent “Private Label tours” and is presently cultural adviser to Ultimate travel

  He has written and presented various TV documentaries, notably the Omnibus programme on 'Whistler' and the exhibition video on 'William Morris.' Three one-man exhibitions of his paintings have been held in England and Switzerland. He has published five novels, which have been translated into 8 foreign languages, and his book on Monet, 'River of Light', has sold 30,000 copies in England, America and France.