There is nothing like a good fight!—Whistler, 1880

James McNeill Whistler (18341903), the expatriate American artist, had a formidable presence. He was known for his consummate skill as a painter and printmaker, for his radical art theories, for his wit—and for his combative persona that repeatedly led his friendships to devolve into feuds. Whistler’s forceful personality was at odds with the delicacy of his art. His iconic signature of a graceful butterfly with a barbed stinger embodies this contradiction.

Inspiring many and reviled by some, Whistler courted controversy throughout his life.

Friends & Enemies: Whistler and his Artistic, Literary, and Social Circles explores Whistler’s high-profile place in the art world and in the literary and social worlds of Paris and London. Tracing famous controversies, such as Whistler's lawsuit against art historian John Ruskin and his verbal sparring with Oscar Wilde, the exhibition has at its core an array of Whistler’s etchings and lithographs. Printmaking was central to Whistler’s career and he is considered one of the great masters of etching and lithography. Whistler’s prints and writings are juxtaposed here with works on paper, photographs, books, periodicals, and ephemera by his associates and the followers who helped ensure his long-lasting legacy. 

This exhibition brings together materials from the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, Museums, and Special Collections, all part of University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press, and from important lenders.

The exhibition was curated by Ashley Rye-Kopec, Curator of Education and Outreach, Museums; Mark Samuels Lasner, Senior Research Fellow, Special Collections; and Amanda Zehnder, Chief Curator, Museums. All of the content in the forthcoming gallery installation is represented in this presentation online. Assistance in research, design, and installation of this exhibition was provided by Jan Broske, Danielle Canter, Tim English, Colleen Estes, Dustin Frohlich, Brian Kamen, and Kris Raser.