James Abbott McNeill WHISTLER

Lowell 1834 - London 1903


Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, James McNeill Whistler lived between the ages of nine and fourteen in Russia, where his father worked as a civil engineer on the railroad linking St. Petersburg and Moscow, and while there took lessons in drawing at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. He also made a number of visits to London, where he studied the collection of Rembrandt prints belonging to his brother-in-law, the surgeon, etcher and collector Francis Seymour Haden, and attended lectures at the Royal Academy. In 1851 Whistler entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he excelled in drawing classes, but was discharged in 1854 for deficiency in chemistry. The following year he went to Paris, where in the summer of 1856 he entered the studio of Charles Gleyre and befriended the artists Henri Martin and Edward Poynter. In 1858 he met Henri Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros, and produced a series of etchings known as the ‘French Set’ which were printed in Paris and London. Whistler’s painting At the Piano, rejected by the Salon of 1859, was exhibited at the studio of the artist François Bonvin, where it was praised by the Realist painter Gustave Courbet. By 1859 Whistler had settled in London, where he enjoyed the support of Haden and his literary and artistic circle, and began working as an illustrator for the magazine Once a Week, while at the same time producing a series of etchings of riverside views in London known as the ‘Thames Set’. He continued to travel frequently between London and Paris, and in the early 1860s met and became friendly with Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet. In 1879, following the ruinous libel trial against John Ruskin and having been declared bankrupt, Whistler escaped to Venice. There he produced numerous superb etchings and pastels that are among his finest works, many of which were exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London in December 1880. From 1881 Whistler largely abandoned the large-scale urban landscapes and studio works of the 1860s and 1870s in favour of much smaller, rapidly executed works in oil, watercolour and pastel which he often referred to as ‘notes’. Elected to the Society of British Artists in 1884, he became its president two years later. In 1890 his portrait of Thomas Carlyle was acquired by the Corporation of Glasgow, becoming the first painting by the artist to enter a public collection. The following year the now-iconic Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother was purchased by the Musée de Luxembourg in Paris, eventually entering the collection of the Louvre. In the same year, a large retrospective exhibition of Whistler’s work was mounted at the Goupil Gallery in London, with great success.

Artworks by this artist