This volume brings together papers that were fi rst presented in October 2011 at an international symposium held at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art. Made possible by the generosity of the Lunder Foundation, “Palaces of Art: Whistler and the Art Worlds of Aestheticism” was the inaugural event of the Lunder Consortium for Whistler Studies, a scholarly partnership founded in 2010 by the Freer Gallery, the Colby College Museum of Art, and the University of Glasgow. The Art Institute of Chicago joined in 2012. As caretakers of the world’s largest collections of the work of James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), the consortium is not only dedicated to supporting and disseminating new research on the American expatriate artist but also encouraging scholarship that moves beyond monographic or biographical approaches to consider the various “art worlds” in which Whistler and his contemporaries operated. The diversity of topics and methodologies deployed at this landmark conference refl ected this expansive, pluralizing approach. In addition to refl ecting on Whistler’s place in the history of art, speakers considered such diverse topics as the construction of aesthetic subjectivities, the relationship between Aestheticism and commodity culture, and the role of global networks in the transmission and reception of Whistlerian style.
Gathered together, these conference proceedings challenge preconceptions about Aestheticism and Whistler’s place within the Aesthetic movement. This notoriously thinskinned painter, who had a particular talent for “the gentle art of making enemies,” was also profoundly interconnected to a cosmopolitan array of artists, writers, collectors, and dealers. Here, authors convincingly overturn the long-held notion of Whistler as an eccentric loner who operated outside of conventional art historical narratives, whether American, British, or modernist. Networks, mutual infl uences, collaborative endeavors, and the enduring power of artistic creation and aesthetic attention are some of the themes that recur throughout this book. Far from being conclusive, these essays open up the field of Whistler studies and will doubtless inspire new work on Whistler’s aesthetic vision and the complexity of his cultural contexts.