The impressionistic night sky filled with rockets, fireworks, and stars was completely misunderstood by English viewing public who were enthralled with the Pre-Raphael Brotherhood. When the painting was shown in 1878 at the Grosvenor Gallery, London, John Ruskin hated it:
The ill-educated conceit of the artist ... approached the aspect of willful imposture, . . . I have seen, and heard, 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.John Ruskin was considered an authority on art and his quote was printed and re-printed in the national press. The effect on Whistler -- on any artist by such a well known critic would have been severe.
Whistler sued for libel and threw everything he had at Ruskin. The trial wiped him out, and though he won the lawsuit technically, the judge only awarded one farthing in damages.
Whistler lost his house and his collection of art and as he grew old he became bitter.
By: Natasha Wallace
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