Nocturne (painting)

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James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket, 1874 [1][2]

In art, a 'nocturne' its broader sense distinguishes paintings of a night scene,[3] or night-piece, such as Rembrandt's The Night Watch, or the German Romantic Caspar David Friedrich's Two Men Contemplating the Moon of 1819.

In America, James Abbott McNeill Whistler titled works thus to distinguish those paintings with a "dreamy, pensive mood" by applying the musical term,[4] and likewise also titled (and retitled) works using other music expressions, such as a "symphony", "harmony", "study" or "arrangement", to emphasize the tonal qualities and the composition and to de-emphasize the narrative content.[5] The use of the term "nocturne" can be associated with the Tonalist movement of the American of the late 19th century and early 20th century which is "characterized by soft, diffused light, muted tones and hazy outlined objects, all of which imbue the works with a strong sense of mood."[6] Along with winter scenes, nocturnes were a common Tonalist theme.[7] Frederic Remington used the term as well for his nocturne scenes of the American Old West.[8][9]


In northern Europe, the Dutch Golden Age produced one of the greatest artists of all time. The first artist to paint scenes on a regular basis in the nocturne mode was Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669).[citation needed] His painting Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1647, National Gallery of Ireland) is set within a nocturnal landscape.[10] His large group portrait of The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq (1642) is popularly known as The Night Watch, although it is not a night scene.[11]

Night scenes by Rembrandt[edit]

Nocturnes by James Abbott McNeill Whistler[edit]

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge, c. 1872-1875 [12] [13]

“Nocturne” was a term that was normally applied to certain types of musical compositions before James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), inspired by the language of music, began using the word within the titles of many of his works,[14] such as Nocturne in Blue and Silver (1871), in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom.[15]

Frederic Remington’s nocturnes[edit]

Frederic Remington (1861-1909) is so identified for his nocturne scenes of the American Old West[16] that they were celebrated in 2003-2004 with an exhibition, Frederic Remington: The Color of Night, co-organized and shown in turn by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma.[17] The exhibition also generated a colorful book of the same title and travelled to the Denver Art Museum in Denver, Colorado. Remington painted many of his nocturnes in the last years of his life, when he was transitioning from a career as an illustrator to that of a fine artist and had chosen Impressionism as the style in which he worked at the time. One example of his work is The Stampede (also known as The Stampede by Lightning, 1908).

Frederic Remington, Sunset on the Plains, 1905–1906, is representative of his late Impressionistic style. The painting is in the West Point Museum Collection, United States Military Academy, New York.

Nocturnes by Frederic Remington[edit]

The paintings pictured in the gallery below are in order of date completed, left to right:

Thomas Eakins, Hiawatha, 1870,[18]
Robert Henri, Snow in New York 1902, exemplifies an urban nocturne by an American Realist, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Night scenes by American Impressionists and other American Realists[edit]

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life, Old Age, 1842, National Gallery of Art

Night scenes by American Impressionists and American Realists[edit]

Night scenes by artists of other movements[edit]

Thomas Cole, The Tornado 1835. The founder of the Hudson River group of landscape painters in 1825, which dominated the landscape movement in America until the 1870s
Stanisław Masłowski, Polish landscape painter - Moonrise, 1884, Oil on canvas, National Museum, Kraków, Sukiennice Museum div.

Other artists who also created nocturne scenes are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Whistler versus Ruskin, Princeton edu. Archived June 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved June 13, 2010
  2. ^ [1] Archived 2012-01-12 at the Wayback Machine, from the Tate, retrieved April 12, 2009
  3. ^ Lawton, Denis. (1992). Education And Politics For The 1990s: Conflict Or Consensus? (edition reprint). Psychology Press. p. 150. ISBN 0750700793.
  4. ^ "Tonalism and the "Nocturne". Detroit Institute of Arts. Archived from the original on 2012-06-16. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  5. ^ Anderson, Ronald and Anne Koval. (2002). James McNeill Whistler: Beyond the Myth. Da Capo Press. p. 186. ISBN 0-786-71032-2. (Note: need to verify this was the edition used.)
  6. ^ Marter, Joan. (2011). The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art, Volume 1 Oxford University Press. p. 54. ISBN 0195335791.
  7. ^ Conrads, Margaret C. (1990). American Paintings and Sculpture at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Contributor: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Hudson Hills. p. 148. ISBN 1555950507.
  8. ^ "Artistic experiments". National Gallery of Art. Archived from the original on 2012-09-24. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  9. ^ "18 images of Remington's nocturnes on 18 web pages". National Gallery of Art. Archived from the original on 2012-09-16. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  10. ^ Loughman, John (April 2006). Book Reviews: "Northern Nocturnes: Nightscapes in the Age of Rembrandt. Historians of Netherlandish Art Reviews. Retrieved April 30, 2023.
  11. ^ Robert Hughes (11 February 2006). "The Enduring Genius of Rembrandt". The Guardian.
  12. ^ Moore, Susan (2003-11-01), "Guardian of the nation's treasures", The Spectator, London
  13. ^ Steiner, Wendy (January 1993), "A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler v. Ruskin", Art in America, retrieved 2009-05-26
  14. ^ "Images of many of Whistler's nocturne paintings, and some by his contemporaries, can be seen at this website for the Detroict Institute of Arts". Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  15. ^ Ronald Anderson and Anne Koval, James McNeill Whistler: Beyond the Myth, Carroll & Graf, New York, 1994, ISBN 978-0786701872
  16. ^ "18 images of Remington's nocturnes on 18 web pages at the National Gallery of Art". Archived from the original on 2012-09-16. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  17. ^ "The Color of Night exhibition website with extensive information and images about Frederic Remington and his paintings". Archived from the original on 2012-09-29. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  18. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  19. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  20. ^ "John Henry Twachtman | artnet".
  21. ^ "".
  22. ^ "Philadelphia Museum of Art - Collections Object : Interior".

Further reading[edit]

  • Holden, Donald. Whistler: Landscapes and Seascapes. Lakewood, New Jersey: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1984.
  • Anderson, Nancy with Alexander Nemerov and William Sharpe. Frederic Remington: The Color of Night. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2003.
  • Sharpe, William C. New York Nocturne: The City After Dark In Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2008.
  • Simpson, Marc and others. Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly. Williamstown, Massachusetts: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2008 (printed by Yale University Press).