"An American in London: Whistler and the Thames" at Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Friday, May 2

Forget, for a moment, “Whistler’s Mother.” That austere image of maternity may be the most famous work by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, but it’s hardly representative of a career that included murals, landscapes, and etchings in addition to traditional portraits. Fortunately for D.C. art fans, the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery possesses the world’s largest collection of the artist’s work, including the grand Peacock Room (which he redecorated), so viewers can get a more complete understanding of Whistler’s oeuvre. Starting today, the gallery’s focus turns to Whistler’s early years in London, where he created the first of his many “nocturnes” and captured the seedy shores of the Thames. The arresting paintings of London as it evolved after the Industrial Revolution offer insights into the artist’s mind, something his dour personality didn’t always convey. And the bright colors Whistler relies on to capture London at all times of day means visitors won’t miss the stiff gray-and-black portrait of Mrs. W. a bit. The exhibition is on view daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., to August 17 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 633-4880. asia.si.edu.

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