By Kelly Burch
---- — The Addison Gallery of American Art is offering a glimpse of Whistler’s London to headline its series of winter exhibitions opening this weekend on the campus of Phillips Academy.
“An American in London: Whistler and the Thames” features works by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who was born in Lowell in 1824, but worked in London after settling there in 1859.
The international show opens Friday night with a reception, and will run through April 13.
“Although Whistler has been the subject of many exhibitions, ‘An American in London’ provides the first focused examination of this important period in his career,” Susan Faxon, interim director of the Addison, said.
“We are delighted that the Addison’s ‘Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge,’ which was one of the first paintings Whistler completed after moving to London, will be shown in the context of his other extraordinary work exploring life along the Thames in the Victorian era.”
“Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge” was one of the original 50 paintings purchased before Addison Gallery even opened its doors in 1931.
Faxon said the idea for the Whistler exhibit came about eight years ago from the museum’s desire to showcase that work.
During his time in London, Whistler focused on portraying the city and the river Thames in new ways. He was particularly interested in the bridges that spanned the Thames, the industrial neighborhoods along its banks and the workers that called those areas home.
“In the exhibit, Whistler really documents all the passages of that river as it goes through London,” Faxon said.
Addison reached out to Whistler experts and museums around the world in order to bring “An American in London” to life.“ The exhibit features more than 70 paintings, prints and drawings by Whistler, including works on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Art Institute of Chicago, Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the British Museum in London. Historic photographs of London will also be on display to give context to the artist’s works.
The exhibit, curated by Margaret MacDonald, professor emerita of art history, and Dr. Patricia de Montfort, both from the University of Glasgow, is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. It will travel to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., after being shown at Addison.
Faxon said from an art-history perspective, Whistler’s importance cannot be overlooked.
“He brought together a whole series of movements that were happening and formed them into one really magnificent body of work,” she said.
In addition to “An American in London,” two other exhibits will be opening Friday night at Addison Gallery.
In an homage to Whistler, “Industrial Strengths: Selections from the Collection” gathers works from the gallery’s permanent collection by artists who also found inspiration in the industrial landscape. This exhibit, which will also run through April 13, features a range of media and time periods.
It explores all aspects of the industrial scene, including laborers, factories, transportation and infrastructure, with behind-the-scenes photographs of Boston’s Big Dig construction among the subjects chronicled. Featured artists include Edward Hopper, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, O. Winston Link, Peter Vanderwarker and Siah Armajani.
“We thought that it would be interesting to choose works from our own collection from artists who portray industrial locations, in much the same way that Whistler portrayed the docks and warehouses on the Thames,” Faxon said.
Rounding out the winter shows is “Eye on the Collection: Artful Poses.” Running through March 30, the exhibit explores the way that portraits capture both the presence of an individual and reveal the social and artistic contexts that the work was created in. Pieces range from 18th-century paintings to modern photographs, all of which use the portrait for artistic and social purposes.
“‘Artful Poses’ is a reflection of the way in which Whistler puts people into context,” Faxon said. “They are pieces that show people engaged in an environment.”
Faxon said while “An American in London” will be of particular interest to people who are familiar with that city, she believes the winter exhibits as a whole are accessible to everyone — whether they are art enthusiasts, or just enjoy looking at beautiful things.
“Almost anyone will find these paintings fascinating,” she said.
IF YOU GO What: Opening reception for winter exhibitions Where: Addison Gallery of American Art, 180 Main St., Andover, on the Phillips Academy campus When: Friday, Jan. 31, 6:30 to 8 p.m. How: Free admission to all gallery exhibitions and events. Various exhibits on display through March 30 and April 13. Call 978-749-4015 or visit www.addisongallery.org.