Green and silver -- The Bright Sea, Dieppe epitomizes James McNeill Whistler's highly modern approach to painting, in which the artist exalts the aesthetic experience and emphasizes timelessness and beauty as the most important components of a work of art. Whistler is quoted widely as having written, "As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, and the subject matter has nothing to do with harmony of sound or of color." Green and silver -- The Bright Sea, Dieppe exemplifies this aesthetic approach, allowing the viewer to luxuriate in the rich harmonies of color and form.
Green and silver -- The Bright Sea, Dieppe was executed circa 1883, and possibly re-worked and signed again in 1885. Margaret MacDonald notes that the right side, with the original butterfly, was concealed when the picture was first framed for exhibition in 1886. Whistler has reduced the composition to its most elemental parts. Across the foreground and middleground several figures and boats are silhouetted against the sandy beach and shoreline. In the far distance another boat sails along the horizon line, echoing the delicate masts of the two sailboats seen closer to shore. Whistler divides the beach, sea and sky into stark horizontal and diagonal registers, emphasizing the flatness of the paper. MacDonald writes: "The narrow format emphasized the striking diagonal of the beach and gave the composition more impact." (James McNeill Whistler: Drawings, Pastels, and Watercolors, A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, Connecticut, 1995, p. 337) The strong diagonal of the composition and wispy calligraphic treatment of the figures and boats also suggest Whistler's interest in the aesthetics of Japonisme and Japanese prints, which were popular among avant-garde artists in London and Paris.
MacDonald describes the artist's technique: "The brushwork is wild and full of life. Whistler took his brush boldly right across the paper for the sky and the top of the sea, and ignored the uneven skyline that resulted. He used broad brush-strokes for the sea, lower down, and for the beach, saturating the paper with free washes, but leaving a few glittering bare white patches of paper to suggest here a breaking wave, there pebbles catching the sun. For these washes his brush was 6mm (¼") wide, much wider than was usual. The agitated figures with their dark umbrellas and the boats with their spiky rigging were painted with a very fine point, after the washes had dried." (James McNeill Whistler: Drawings, Pastels, and Watercolors, A Catalogue Raisonné, p. 338)
Green and silver -- The Bright Sea, Dieppe demonstrates Whistler's impressive degree of facility with watercolor. The washes are even and vibrant, the details wispy and evocative. The simplicity and economy with which the artist achieves his desired effects of timelessness and beauty became the hallmarks of his highly celebrated watercolor technique. Indeed, Whistler's seascapes in watercolor are among the most fresh and attractive works of his oeuvre.