Like Breath on Glass by
Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly

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“Paint should not be applied thick,” James McNeill Whistler once famously stated. “It should be like breath on the surface of a pane of glass.” Through an innovative manner of handling paint, a group of American artists around 1900 created deceptively simple canvases that convey images of shimmering transience, visions suggested rather than delineated. Focusing on this singular aesthetic characteristic—softness—Like Breath on Glass explores this painterly phenomenon through works by fifteen important artists, including Whistler, George Inness, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, John Twachtman, and Edward Steichen.

Leading scholars in American art consider a wide variety of topics: the very different motives—technical, social, religious, and scientific—that prompted these artists in their experimentation; their materials; their techniques for creating the appearance of effortlessness; period notions of “the vague” through art and writing; and the revival of "painting softly" in the 1950s and 1960s. This beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated catalogue highlights a surprisingly understudied yet important aspect of American cultural and painterly achievement.


About the Author

Published January 1, 2008 by Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute / Dist. by Yale University Press. 267 pages
Genres: History, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Like Breath on Glass

The New York Review of Books

In the last five years, there have been almost as many books and shows about Inness as in the previous five decades, and together they explain a great deal about this idiosyncratic and fascinating artist.

Sep 25 2008 | Read Full Review of Like Breath on Glass: Whistle...

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