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The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (Dover Fine Art, History of Art) Paperback – June 1, 1967

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Whistler's Gentle Art, a classic in the literature of insult and denigration, might well be subtitled "The Autobiography of a Hater," for it contains the deadly sarcasm and stinging remarks of one of the wittiest men of the nineteenth century. Whistler not only refused to tolerate misunderstanding by critics and the so-called art-loving public—but launched vicious counterattacks as well. His celebrated passages-at-arms with Oscar Wilde and Swinburne, the terse and penetrating "letters to the editor," his rebuttals to attacks from critics, and biting marginal notes to contemptuous comments on his paintings and hostile reviews (which are also reprinted) are all part of this record of the artist's vendettas.
Whistler's most famous battle began when critic John Ruskin saw one of the artist's "Nocturnes" exhibited in Grosvenor Gallery. "I have seen, and heard," wrote Ruskin, "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 was incensed with this criticism, and initiated the famous libel case "Whistler vs. Ruskin." Extracts from the resultant trial record are among the highlights of this book, with Whistler brilliantly annihilating his Philistine critics, but winning only a farthing in damages.
The Gentle Art, designed by Whistler himself, is a highly entertaining account of personal revenges, but it is also an iconoclast's plea for a new and better attitude toward painting. As a historical document, it is the best statement of the new aesthetics versus the old guard academics, and it helped greatly in shaping the modern feeling toward art.
Unabridged, unaltered republication of the second (1892) edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Fine Art, History of Art
  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (June 1, 1967)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486218759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486218755
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #566,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 7, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
James A. MnN. Whistler had many talents. His best-known, today, was his skill as a painter, exploring new uses for the medium once photography started to claim literal realism for itself. In his day, though, Whistler achieved some fame for his ability to irritate the art establishment of the time, and for his knack of keeping himself at the forefront of public awareness. This book documents those secondary skills.

Nearly all of the content reproduces series of letters to editors of major newspapers, arranged here by Whistler to ensure that he has the last word in each debate. It seems to be a lost art these days, but mighty battles were once waged in the letters columns, with volley after volley of thrust and counterthrust, all in correspondence that drips with elegant vitriol. One could almost see the borders of the news-sheet as the ropes around a boxing ring, with a editorial referee ensuring a clean fight and an entertaining public spectacle.

Although many critics attracted Whistler's public scorn, John Ruskin capped Whistler's career as enemy-maker. After Ruskin maligned one of Whistler's "Nocturnes" in public, Whistler sued him for libel. Whistler won the judgment. With typically British understatement, however, it chastised him as well: he was awarded an entire farthing in damages, a fraction of a cent, but was nearly bankrupted by court costs.

Whistler composed this collection largely as a tribute to the glory of Whistler, and that contributes to its enduring entertainment value. Artists from Benvenuto Cellini to the current day have autobiographically publicized themselves; self-publicity seems a required skill for any successful artist. Whistler's unique skill lay in garnering publicity through these refined and public matches of wit against acid wit. These don't just amuse, however, they also help modern readers realize the artistic and social context in which Whistler redefined what painting could be.

- wiredweird
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Luix on September 29, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's really a good book, but reading took me much more time than I expected because the language. But it's still a good choice.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book to be amaaaaazing! One that I'll go back to just for fun and re-read different parts just to chuckle again.
It's is a compilation of insulting letters by critics of his time against Whistler and his own rebuttals to their derogatory accusations.
It's not in story form but each letter is engaging.

While the introduction gives an idea and outline of the man, a good biography can further embellish tales of his enemies and struggles touched upon in the book.
Done with a wit like Oscar Wilde's and an unexpected depth of poetic musings Ie: on pg 144-- "Nature, who, for once, has sung in tune, sings her exquisite song to the artist alone, her son and her master--her son in that he loves her, her master in that he knows her." (Love that).
There is his own interesting take on the history of art from prehistoric origins and development p.139-143.
Whistler has become my favorite character. He was the real-deal-art champion and a flamboyant-Don Quixote-style warrior against a background of 19th century short-sighted-public and the many critics who mocked him and considered his paintings an insult and affront to humanity and reason.
This book IS Whistler's life as he was living it--embroiled in business battles from all sides and battling back like a defiant-sword-swinging musketeer. It shows the courage few men would have to save the worst insults and criticisms fired at him and then gather them up and hang them up like dirty laundry for all the world to see.
It's fun to sit on the sidelines and watch the volleys "firing off" back and forth. The book even has letters about it's own embattled history.
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The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (Dover Fine Art, History of Art)
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