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The Knowledge of a Lifetime - Perspectives No. 393

The Knowledge of a Lifetime

Perspectives No. 393

Editorial Cartoon by Edward Linley Sambourne

Editorial Cartoon by Edward Linley Sambourne     1878
An Appeal to the Law
Naughty Critic, to Use Bad Language
Silly Painter, to Go to Law About It!


   A question familiar to many artists is, “How long did it take you to paint that?” It seems that some people would like to appraise the value of a work of art by the dollars per hour spent in painting time. When James Abbott McNeill Whistler was asked how he could ask such a high price (200 guineas, or about $17,000 today) for his painting, Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, which had taken only two days to paint, he replied, “No, I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.”

Nocturne in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket, 1875, J.A.M. Whistler
Nocturne in Blue and Gold, The Falling Rocket    
1875     J.A.M. Whistler

   The occasion was a court battle, Whistler having sued the famous art critic, John Ruskin, for libel. Ruskin viewed an exhibition in 1877, which included Whistler’s nocturne paintings at the newly opened Grosvenor Gallery in London. Ruskin wrote about Whistler’s painting in Fors Clavigera, his monthly periodical. “The ill educated conceit of the artist so nearly approaches the aspect of willful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now, but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face.”

   Whistler ultimately won the highly publicized lawsuit. He had claimed damages of 1,000 pounds, but was awarded only one farthing and refused to accept any court costs. He had sued his harshest critic and had won a moral victory, but his paintings were still ridiculed in the press. Whistler was later forced to declare bankruptcy. He sold his home in London and began a new commission in Venice.

   Ruskin, who had been suffering from ill health, resigned from his professorship at Oxford, his reputation damaged.

   (Nocturne in Blue and Gold, the Falling Rocket is in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. While it is hard to say what the value of it might be today, the painting, Whistler’s Mother is estimated to be worth 39 million dollars.)




Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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A Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes

Nocturnes - A Primer on Night Painting

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About Us

Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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