James McNeill Whistler
Overview
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (July 10, 1834 — July 17, 1903) was an American-born, British-based artist. Averse to sentimentality and moral allusion
Moral
A moral is a message conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly encapsulated in a maxim...

 in painting, he was a leading proponent of the credo "art for art's sake
Art for art's sake
"Art for art's sake" is the usual English rendering of a French slogan, from the early 19th century, l'art pour l'art, and expresses a philosophy that the intrinsic value of art, and the only "true" art, is divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function...

". His famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger for a tail. The symbol was apt, for it combined both aspects of his personality—his art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, while his public persona was combative.
Quotations

Two and two continue to make four, in spite of the whine of the amateur for three, or the cry of the critic for five.

Whistler v. Ruskin

"I know of only two painters in the world," said a newly introduced feminine enthusiast to Whistler, "yourself and Diego Velázquez|Velasquez." "Why," answered Whistler in dulcet tones, "why drag in Velasquez?"

D.C. Seitz, Whistler Stories (1913)

[In response to a lady who said that a landscape reminded her of his work] Yes, madam, Nature is creeping up.

D.C. Seitz, Whistler Stories

A group from Glasgow sought in 1891 to purchase his portrait of Thomas Carlyle was shocked that Whistler's price was 1000 guineas. A spokesman countered that the portrait was not even life size. Whistler replied, "But, you know, few men are life size."

Tom Prideaux and Time-Life Books, The World of Whistler (1970)

May I therefore acknowledge the tender glow of health induced by reading, as I sat here in the morning sun, the flattering attention paid me by your gentleman of ready wreath and quick biography!

After a Dutch newspaper prematurely reported his death in 1902

Art is a goddess of dainty thought,reticent of habit,abjuring all obthisiveness,purposing in no way to better others.She is ,withal selfishly occupied with her own perfection only- having no desire to teach.

Art is upon the Town!

Listen! There was never an artistic period. There was never an art-loving nation.

Encyclopedia
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (July 10, 1834 — July 17, 1903) was an American-born, British-based artist. Averse to sentimentality and moral allusion
Moral
A moral is a message conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly encapsulated in a maxim...

 in painting, he was a leading proponent of the credo "art for art's sake
Art for art's sake
"Art for art's sake" is the usual English rendering of a French slogan, from the early 19th century, l'art pour l'art, and expresses a philosophy that the intrinsic value of art, and the only "true" art, is divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function...

". His famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger for a tail. The symbol was apt, for it combined both aspects of his personality—his art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, while his public persona was combative. Finding a parallel between painting and music, Whistler titled many of his paintings "arrangements", "harmonies
Harmony
In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches , or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic...

", and "nocturnes
Nocturnes
Nocturnes is an orchestral composition in three movements by the French composer Claude Debussy. It was completed on 15 December 1899.-Movements:The three movements are:* I. Nuages * II. Fêtes * III...

", emphasizing the primacy of tonal harmony. His most famous painting is Whistler's Mother
Whistler's Mother
Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother, famous under its colloquial name Whistler's Mother, is an 1871 oil-on-canvas painting by American-born painter James McNeill Whistler. The painting is , displayed in a frame of Whistler's own design, and is now owned by the Musée d'Orsay in Paris....

(1871), the revered and oft parodied portrait of motherhood. Whistler influenced the art world and the broader culture of his time with his artistic theories and his friendships with leading artists and writers.

Early life

James Abbott Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts
Lowell, Massachusetts
Lowell is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA. According to the 2010 census, the city's population was 106,519. It is the fourth largest city in the state. Lowell and Cambridge are the county seats of Middlesex County...

. He was the first child born to Anna Matilda McNeill
Anna McNeill Whistler
Anna Matilda Whistler was the mother of American-born, British-based painter, James McNeill Whistler, who made her the subject of his famous painting "Arrangement in Grey & Black", often titled, Whistler's Mother.-Biography:Anna McNeill Whistler was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, the...

 and George Washington Whistler
George Washington Whistler
George Washington Whistler was a prominent American railroad engineer in the first half of the 19th century....

, a prominent engineer. She was his father's second wife. At the Ruskin trial (see below), Whistler claimed the more exotic St. Petersburg, Russia as his birthplace: "I shall be born when and where I want, and I do not choose to be born in Lowell", he declared. In later years, he would play up his mother's connection to the American South
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 and its roots, and present himself as an impoverished Southern aristocrat (although to what extent he truly sympathized with the Southern cause during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 remains unclear). After her death he would adopt her maiden name, using it as an additional middle name. Young Whistler was a moody child prone to fits of temper and insolence, who—after bouts of ill-health—often drifted into periods of laziness. His parents discovered in his early youth that drawing often settled him down and helped focus his attention.

Russia and England

Beginning in 1842, his father was employed to work on a railroad in Russia. After moving to St. Petersburg to join his father a year later, the young Whistler took private art lessons, then enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts at age eleven. The young artist followed the traditional curriculum of drawing from plaster casts and occasional live models, reveled in the atmosphere of art talk with older peers, and pleased his parents with a first-class mark in anatomy. In 1844, he met the noted artist Sir William Allan, who came to Russia with a commission to paint a history of the life of Peter the Great. Whistler's mother noted in her diary, "the great artist remarked to me ‘Your little boy has uncommon genius, but do not urge him beyond his inclination.’"

In 1847-8, his family spent some time in London with relatives, while his father stayed in Russia. Whistler's brother-in-law Francis Haden
Francis Seymour Haden
Sir Francis Seymour Haden , was an English surgeon, best known as an etcher.He was born in London, his father, Charles Thomas Haden, being a well-known doctor and lover of music. He was educated at Derby School, Christ's Hospital, and University College, London, and also studied at the Sorbonne,...

, a physician who was also an artist, spurred his interest in art and photography. Haden took Whistler to visit collectors and to lectures, and gave him a watercolor set with instruction. Whistler already was imagining an art career. He began to collect books on art and he studied other artists’ techniques. When his portrait was painted by Sir William Boxall
William Boxall
Sir William Boxall was an English painter and museum director.He was born in or near Oxford and educated at Abingdon grammar school, before entering the Royal Academy Schools in 1819. Between 1827 and 1845 he made a number of trips to Italy to study the old masters...

 in 1848, the young Whistler exclaimed that the portrait was "very much like me and a very fine picture. Mr. Boxall is a beautiful colourist…It is a beautiful creamy surface, and looks so rich." In his blossoming enthusiasm for art, at fifteen, he informed his father by letter of his future direction, "I hope, dear father, you will not object to my choice." His father, however, died from cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 at the age of forty-nine, and the Whistler family moved back to his mother's hometown of Pomfret, Connecticut
Pomfret, Connecticut
Pomfret is a town in Windham County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 3,798 at the 2000 census.-Geography:According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of , of which, of it is land and of it is water....

. His art plans remained vague and his future uncertain. The family lived frugally and managed to get by on a limited income. His cousin reported that Whistler at that time was "slight, with a pensive, delicate face, shaded by soft brown curls…he had a somewhat foreign appearance and manner, which, aided by natural abilities, made him very charming, even at that age."

West Point

Whistler was sent to Christ Church Hall School with his mother's hopes that he would become a minister. Whistler was seldom without his sketchbook and was popular with his classmates for his caricatures. However, after it became clear that a career in religion did not suit him, he applied to the United States Military Academy
United States Military Academy
The United States Military Academy at West Point is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located at West Point, New York. The academy sits on scenic high ground overlooking the Hudson River, north of New York City...

 at West Point, where his father had taught drawing, and other relatives had attended. On the strength of his family name, and despite his extreme nearsightedness and poor health history, he was admitted to the highly selective institution. However, during his three years there, his grades were barely satisfactory, and he was a sorry sight at drill and dress. Known as "Curly" for his hair length which exceeded regulations, Whistler bucked authority, spouted sarcastic comments, and racked up demerits. His major accomplishment was learning drawing and map making from American artist Robert W. Weir.

His departure from West Point seems to have been precipitated by a failure in a chemistry exam where, when asked to describe silicon, he began by saying "Silicon is a gas". As he himself put it later: "If silicon were a gas, I would have been a general one day." However, a separate anecdote suggests misconduct in drawing class as the reason for Whistler's departure.

First job

After West Point, Whistler worked as draftsman mapping the entire U.S. coast for military and maritime purposes. He found the work boring and he was frequently late or absent. He spent much of his free time playing billiards and idling about, was always broke, and although a charmer, had little acquaintance with women. After it was discovered that he was drawing sea serpents, mermaids, and whales on the margins of the maps, he was transferred to the etching division of the U. S. Coast Survey. He lasted there only two months, but he learned the etching technique which later proved valuable to his career.

At this point, Whistler firmly decided that art would be his future. For a few months he lived in Baltimore with a wealthy friend, Tom Winans, who even furnished Whistler with a studio and some spending cash. The young artist made some valuable contacts in the art community and also sold some early paintings to Winans. Whistler turned down his mother's suggestions for other more practical careers and informed her that with money from Winans, he was setting out to further his art training in Paris. Whistler never returned to the United States.

Art study in France

Whistler arrived in Paris in 1855, rented a studio in the Latin Quarter, and quickly adopted the life of a bohemian artist. Soon, he had a French girlfriend, a dressmaker named Héloise. He studied traditional art methods for a short time at the Ecole Impériale and at the atelier of Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre
Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre
Charles Gleyre , was a Swiss artist. He took over the studio of Paul Delaroche in 1843 and taught a number of younger artists who became prominent, including Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.His father and mother died when he was eight or nine...

. The latter was a great advocate of the work of Ingres
Ingres
Ingres Database is a commercially supported, open-source SQL relational database management system intended to support large commercial and government applications...

, and impressed Whistler with two principles that he used for the rest of his career: line is more important than color and that black is the fundamental color of tonal harmony. Twenty years later, the Impressionists
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

 would largely overthrow this philosophy, banning black and brown as "forbidden colors" and emphasizing color over form. Whistler preferred self-study (including copying at the Louvre
Louvre
The Musée du Louvre – in English, the Louvre Museum or simply the Louvre – is one of the world's largest museums, the most visited art museum in the world and a historic monument. A central landmark of Paris, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1st arrondissement...

) and enjoying the café life. While letters from home reported his mother's efforts at economy, Whistler spent freely, sold little or nothing in his first year in Paris, and was in steady debt. To relieve the situation, he took to painting and selling copies he made at the Louvre
Louvre
The Musée du Louvre – in English, the Louvre Museum or simply the Louvre – is one of the world's largest museums, the most visited art museum in the world and a historic monument. A central landmark of Paris, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1st arrondissement...

 and finally moved to cheaper quarters. As luck would have it, the arrival in Paris of George Lucas, another rich friend, helped stabilize Whistler's finances for a while. In spite of a financial respite, the winter of 1857 was a difficult one for Whistler. His poor health, made worse by excessive smoking and drinking, laid him low.

Conditions improved during the summer of 1858. Whistler recovered and traveled with fellow artist Ernest Delannoy through France and the Rhineland. He later produced a group of etchings known as "The French Set", with the help of French master printer Auguste Delâtre. During that year, he painted his first self-portrait, Portrait of Whistler with Hat, a dark and thickly rendered work reminiscent of Rembrandt. But the event of greatest consequence that year was his friendship with Henri Fantin-Latour
Henri Fantin-Latour
Henri Fantin-Latour was a French painter and lithographer best known for his flower paintings and group portraits of Parisian artists and writers.-Biography:...

, whom he met at the Louvre
Louvre
The Musée du Louvre – in English, the Louvre Museum or simply the Louvre – is one of the world's largest museums, the most visited art museum in the world and a historic monument. A central landmark of Paris, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1st arrondissement...

. Through him, Whistler was introduced to the circle of Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet
Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet was a French painter who led the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting. The Realist movement bridged the Romantic movement , with the Barbizon School and the Impressionists...

, which included Carolus-Duran
Carolus-Duran
Charles Auguste Émile Durand, known as Carolus-Duran , was a French painter and art instructor. He is noted for his stylish depictions of members of high society in Third Republic France.-Biography:...

 (later the teacher of John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was an American artist, considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings...

), Alphonse Legros
Alphonse Legros
Alphonse Legros , painter, etcher and sculptor was born in Dijon. His father was an accountant, and came from the neighbouring village of Véronnes....

, and Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet was a French painter. One of the first 19th-century artists to approach modern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism....

.

Also in this group was Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire was a French poet who produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe. His most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal expresses the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the nineteenth century...

, whose ideas and theories of "modern" art influenced Whistler. Baudelaire challenged artists to scrutinize the brutality of life and nature and to portray it faithfully, avoiding the old themes of mythology and allegory. Théophile Gautier
Théophile Gautier
Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, art critic and literary critic....

, one of the first to explore translational qualities among art and music, may have inspired Whistler to view art in musical terms.

London

Reflecting the banner of realism of his adopted circle, Whistler painted his first exhibited work, La Mere Gerard in 1858. He followed it by painting At the Piano in 1859 in London, which he adopted as his home, while also regularly visiting friends in France. At the Piano is a portrait composed of his niece and her mother in their London music room, an effort which clearly displayed his talent and promise. A critic wrote, "[despite] a recklessly bold manner and sketchiness of the wildest and roughest kind, [it has] a genuine feeling for colour and a splendid power of composition and design, which evince a just appreciation of nature very rare amongst artists." The work is unsentimental and effectively contrasts the mother in black and the daughter in white, with other colors kept restrained in the manner advised by his teacher Gleyre. It was displayed at the Royal Academy the following year, and in many exhibits to come.

In a second painting executed in the same room, Whistler demonstrated his natural inclination toward innovation and novelty by fashioning a genre scene with unusual composition and foreshortening. It later was re-titled Harmony in Green and Rose: The Music Room. This painting also demonstrated Whistler's ongoing work pattern, especially with portraits: a quick start, major adjustments, a period of neglect, then a final flurry to the finish.

After a year in London, as counterpoint to his 1858 French set, in 1860, he produced another set of etchings called Thames Set, as well as some early impressionistic work, including The Thames in Ice. At this stage, he was beginning to establish his technique of tonal harmony based on a limited, pre-determined palette.

Early career

In 1861, after returning to Paris for a time, Whistler painted his first famous work, Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl
Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl
Symphony in White, No. 1, also known as The White Girl, is a painting by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The work shows a woman in full figure standing on a wolf skin in front of a white curtain with a lily in her hand. The colour scheme of the painting is almost entirely white. The model is Joanna...

. The portrait of his mistress and business manager Joanna Hiffernan
Joanna Hiffernan
Joanna "Jo" Hiffernan was an Irish artists' model and muse who was romantically linked with American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler and French painter Gustave Courbet.-Early life:Hiffernan was a Roman Catholic...

 was created as a simple study in white; however, others saw it differently. The critic Jules Castagnary thought the painting an allegory of a new bride's lost innocence. Others linked it to Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins
William Wilkie Collins was an English novelist, playwright, and author of short stories. He was very popular during the Victorian era and wrote 30 novels, more than 60 short stories, 14 plays, and over 100 non-fiction pieces...

's The Woman in White, a popular novel of the time, or various other literary sources. In England, some considered it a painting in the Pre-Raphaelite manner. In the painting, Hiffernan holds a lily in her left hand and stands upon a bear skin rug (interpreted by some to represent masculinity and lust) with the bear's head staring menacingly at the viewer. The portrait was refused for exhibition at the conservative Royal Academy, but in 1863 it was accepted at the Salon des Refusés
Salon des Refusés
The Salon des Refusés, French for “exhibition of rejects” , is generally an exhibition of works rejected by the jury of the official Paris Salon, but the term is most famously used to refer to the Salon des Refusés of 1863.-Background:...

 in Paris, an event sponsored by Emperor Napoleon III for the exhibition of works rejected from the Salon.

Whistler's painting was widely noticed, although upstaged by Manet's more shocking painting Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. Countering criticism by traditionalists, Whistler's supporters insisted that the painting was "an apparition with a spiritual content" and that it epitomized his theory that art should be concerned essentially with the arrangement of colors in harmony, not with a literal portrayal of the natural world.

Two years later, Whistler painted another portrait of Hiffernan in white, this time displaying his new found interest in Asian motifs, which he entitled The Little White Girl
Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl
Symphony in White, No. 2, also known as The Little White Girl is a painting by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The work shows a woman in three-quarter figure standing by a fireplace with a mirror over it. She is holding a fan in her hand, and wearing a white dress. The model is Joanna Heffernan, the...

. His Lady of the Land Lijsen and The Golden Screen, both completed in 1864, again portray his mistress, in even more emphatic Asian dress and surroundings. During this period Whistler became close to Courbet
Gustave Courbet
Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet was a French painter who led the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting. The Realist movement bridged the Romantic movement , with the Barbizon School and the Impressionists...

, the early leader of the French realist school, but when Hiffernan modeled in the nude for Courbet, Whistler became enraged and his relationship with Hiffernan began to fall apart. In January 1864, Whistler's very religious and very proper mother arrived in London, upsetting her son's bohemian existence and temporarily exacerbating family tensions. As he wrote to Henri Fantin-Latour
Henri Fantin-Latour
Henri Fantin-Latour was a French painter and lithographer best known for his flower paintings and group portraits of Parisian artists and writers.-Biography:...

, "General upheaval!! I had to empty my house and purify it from cellar to eaves." He also immediately moved Hiffernan to another location.

Nocturnes

In 1866, Whistler decided to visit Valparaíso, Chile, a journey that has puzzled scholars, although Whistler stated that he did it for political reasons. Chile was at war with Spain and perhaps Whistler thought it a heroic struggle of a small nation against a larger one, but no evidence supports that theory. What the journey did produce was Whistler's first three nocturnal paintings—which he termed "moonlights" and later re-titled as "nocturnes"—night scenes of the harbor painted with a blue or light green palette. After he returned to London, he painted several more nocturnes over the next ten years, many of the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 and of Cremorne Gardens
Cremorne Gardens, London
Cremorne Gardens were popular pleasure gardens by the side of the River Thames in Chelsea, London. They lay between Chelsea Harbour and the end of the King's Road and flourished between 1845 to 1877; today only a vestige survives, on the river at the southern end of Cheyne Walk.-History:Originally...

, a pleasure park famous for its frequent fireworks
Fireworks
Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event is a display of the effects produced by firework devices...

 displays, which presented a novel challenge to paint. In his maritime nocturnes, Whistler used highly thinned paint as a ground with lightly flicked color to suggest ships, lights, and shore line. Some of the Thames paintings also show compositional and thematic similarities with the Japanese prints of Hiroshige
Hiroshige
was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, and one of the last great artists in that tradition. He was also referred to as Andō Hiroshige and by the art name of Ichiyūsai Hiroshige ....

.

In 1872, Whistler credited his patron Frederick Leyland, an amateur musician devoted to Chopin, for his musically inspired titles.
I say I can’t thank you too much for the name ‘Nocturne’ as a title for my moonlights! You have no idea what an irritation it proves to the critics and consequent pleasure to me —besides it is really so charming and does so poetically say all that I want to say and no more than I wish!


At that point, Whistler painted another self portrait and entitled it Arrangement in Gray: Portrait of the Painter (c. 1872), and he also began to re-title many of his earlier works using terms associated with music, such as a "nocturne", "symphony", "harmony", "study" or "arrangement", to emphasize the tonal qualities and the composition and to de-emphasize the narrative content. Whistler's nocturnes were among his most innovative works. Furthermore, his submission of several nocturnes to art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel
Paul Durand-Ruel
Paul Durand-Ruel was a French art dealer who is associated with the Impressionists. He was one of the first modern art dealers who provided support to his painters with stipends and solo exhibitions....

 after the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

 gave Whistler the opportunity to explain his evolving "theory in art" to artists, buyers, and critics in France. His good friend Fantin-Latour, growing more reactionary in his opinions, especially in his negativity concerning the emerging Impressionist school, found Whistler's new works surprising and confounding. Fantin-Latour admitted, "I don’t understand anything there; it's bizarre how one changes. I don't recognize him anymore." Their relationship was nearly at an end by then, but they continued to share opinions in occasional correspondence. When Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas[p] , born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist...

 invited Whistler to exhibit with the first show by the Impressionists in 1874, Whistler turned down the invitation, as did Manet
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet was a French painter. One of the first 19th-century artists to approach modern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism....

, and some scholars attributed this in part to Fantin-Latour's influence on both men.

Portraits

The Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

 of 1870 fragmented the French art community. Many artists took refuge in England, joining Whistler, including Pissarro and Monet, while Manet and Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas[p] , born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist...

 stayed in France. Like Whistler, Monet and Pissarro both focused their efforts on views of the city, and it is likely that Whistler was exposed to the evolution of Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

 founded by these artists and that they had seen his nocturnes. Whistler was drifting away from Courbet's "damned realism" and their friendship had wilted, as had his liaison with Jo.

Whistler's Mother


By 1871, Whistler returned to portraits and soon produced his most famous painting, the nearly monochromatic full-length figure entitled Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Artist's Mother, but usually referred to as Whistler's Mother
Whistler's Mother
Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother, famous under its colloquial name Whistler's Mother, is an 1871 oil-on-canvas painting by American-born painter James McNeill Whistler. The painting is , displayed in a frame of Whistler's own design, and is now owned by the Musée d'Orsay in Paris....

. According to a letter from his mother, one day after a model failed to appear, Whistler turned to his mother and suggested he do her portrait. In his typically slow and experimental way, at first he had her stand, but that proved too tiring so the famous profile pose was adopted. It took dozens of sittings to complete.

The austere portrait in his normally constrained palette is another Whistler exercise in tonal harmony and composition. The deceptively simple design is in fact a balancing act of differing shapes, particularly rectangles of the curtain, picture on the wall, wall, and floor which stabilize the curve of her face, dress, and chair. Again, although his mother is the subject, Whistler commented that the narrative was of little importance. In reality, however, it was a homage to his pious mother. After the initial shock of her moving in with her son, she aided him considerably by stabilizing his behavior somewhat, tending to his domestic needs, and providing an aura of conservative respectability that helped win over patrons.

Mostly due to its anti-Victorian simplicity, during a time in England when sentimentality and flamboyant decoration were in vogue, the public reacted negatively. Critics thought the painting a failed "experiment" rather than art. The Royal Academy rejected it, then grudgingly accepted it after lobbying by Sir William Boxall—but then hung the painting in an unfavorable location at its exhibition.

From the start, Whistler's Mother sparked varying reactions, including parody, ridicule, and reverence, which have continued to today. While some saw it as "the dignified feeling of old ladyhood", "a grave sentiment of mourning", or a "perfect symbol of motherhood", others employed it as a fitting vehicle for mockery. It has been satirized in endless variation in greeting cards and magazines, and by cartoon characters such as Donald Duck
Donald Duck
Donald Fauntleroy Duck is a cartoon character created in 1934 at Walt Disney Productions and licensed by The Walt Disney Company. Donald is an anthropomorphic white duck with a yellow-orange bill, legs, and feet. He typically wears a sailor suit with a cap and a black or red bow tie. Donald is most...

 and Bullwinkle the Moose. Whistler did his part in promoting the picture and popularizing the image. He frequently exhibited it and authorized the early reproductions that made their way into thousands of homes.

The painting narrowly escaped being burnt in a fire aboard a train during shipping. Later the painting was purchased by the French government, the first Whistler work in a public collection, and is now housed in the Musée d'Orsay
Musée d'Orsay
The Musée d'Orsay is a museum in Paris, France, on the left bank of the Seine. It is housed in the former Gare d'Orsay, an impressive Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915, including paintings, sculptures, furniture,...

 in Paris.

During the Depression, the picture was billed as a "million dollar" painting and was a big hit at the Chicago World's Fair. It was accepted as a universal icon of motherhood by the worldwide public, which was not particularly aware or concerned with Whistler's aesthetic theories. In public recognition of its status and popularity, the United States issued a postage stamp in 1934 featuring an adaptation of the painting.

In summing up the painting's impact author Martha Tedeschi has stated:
" Whistler's Mother, Wood
Grant Wood
Grant DeVolson Wood was an American painter, born four miles east of Anamosa, Iowa. He is best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest, particularly the painting American Gothic, an iconic image of the 20th century.- Life and career :His family moved to Cedar Rapids after his...

's American Gothic
American Gothic
American Gothic is a painting by Grant Wood, in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood's inspiration came from a cottage designed in the Gothic Revival style with a distinctive upper window and a decision to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that...

, Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

's Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa is a portrait by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. It is a painting in oil on a poplar panel, completed circa 1503–1519...

and Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch was a Norwegian Symbolist painter, printmaker and an important forerunner of expressionist art. His best-known composition, The Scream, is part of a series The Frieze of Life, in which Munch explored the themes of love, fear, death, melancholia, and anxiety.- Childhood :Edvard Munch...

's The Scream
The Scream
Scream is the title of Expressionist paintings and prints in a series by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, showing an agonized figure against a blood red sky...

have all achieved something that most paintings—regardless of their art historical importance, beauty, or monetary value—have not: they communicate a specific meaning almost immediately to almost every viewer. These few works have successfully made the transition from the elite realm of the museum visitor to the enormous venue of popular culture."

Other portraits

Other important portraits by Whistler include those of Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher during the Victorian era.He called economics "the dismal science", wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and became a controversial social commentator.Coming from a strict Calvinist family, Carlyle was...

 (historian,1873), Maud Franklin
Maud Franklin
Maud Franklin was an English artist and the mistress of and model for artist James McNeill Whistler.Franklin was born in Bicester, Oxfordshire, England, one of six children of Charles Franklin, an upholsterer and cabinetmaker, and Mary Clifton, after whom she was christened 'Mary'...

 (his mistress, 1876), Cicely Alexander (daughter of a London banker, 1873), Lady Meux (socialite, 1882), and Théodore Duret
Théodore Duret
Théodore Duret was a French journalist, author and art critic. He was one of the first advocates of impressionism, and many of his writings are devoted to explaining to the 19th century public how the new trends in painting were a continuation of traditions in western painting.- References...

 (critic, 1884). In the 1870s, Whistler painted full length portraits of F.R. Leyland
Frederick Richards Leyland
Frederick Richards Leyland was a Liverpool shipowner and art collector.-Career:Leyland served as an apprentice in the firm of John Bibby, Sons & Co, where he rose to become a partner. In 1867 he took on the tenancy of Speke Hall, Liverpool and in 1869 bought a house in London at 49 Princes Gate...

 and his wife Frances. Leyland subsequently commissioned the artist to decorate his dining room (see Peacock Room below).

Whistler had been disappointed over the irregular acceptance of his works for the Royal Academy exhibitions and the poor hanging and placement of his paintings. In response, Whistler staged his first solo show in 1874. The show was notable and noticed, however, for Whistler's design and decoration of the hall, which harmonized well with the paintings, in keeping with his art theories. A reviewer wrote, "The visitor is struck, on entering the gallery, with a curious sense of harmony and fitness pervading it, and is more interested, perhaps, in the general effect than in any one work."

Whistler was not so successful a portrait painter as the other famous expatriate American John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was an American artist, considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings...

. Whistler's spare technique and his disinclination to flatter his sitters, as well as his notoriety may account for this. He also worked very slowly and demanded extraordinarily long sittings. William Merritt Chase
William Merritt Chase
William Merritt Chase was an American painter known as an exponent of Impressionism and as a teacher. He is also responsible for establishing the Chase School, which later would become Parsons The New School for Design.- Early life and training :He was born in Williamsburg , Indiana, to the family...

 complained of his sitting for a portrait by Whistler, "He proved to be a veritable tyrant, painting every day into the twilight, while my limbs ached with weariness and my head swam dizzily. ‘Don’t move! Don’t move!’ he would scream whenever I started to rest." By the time he gained widespread acceptance in the 1890s, Whistler was past his prime as a portrait painter.

Technique

Whistler's approach to portraiture in his late maturity was described by one of his sitters, Arthur J. Eddy, who posed for the artist in 1894:
He worked with great rapidity and long hours, but he used his colours thin and covered the canvas with innumerable coats of paint. The colours increased in depth and intensity as the work progressed. At first the entire figure was painted in greyish-brown tones, with very little flesh colour, the whole blending perfectly with the greyish-brown of the prepared canvas; then the entire background would be intensified a little; then the figure made a little stronger; then the background, and so on from day to day and week to week, and often from month to month.... And so the portrait would really grow, really develop as an entirety, very much as a negative under the action of the chemicals comes out gradually—light, shadows, and all from the very first faint indications to their full values. It was as if the portrait were hidden within the canvas and the master by passing his wands day after day over the surface evoked the image.

Printmaking

A supremely gifted engraver, Whistler produced numerous etchings, lithographs, and dry-points. His lithographs, some drawn on stone, others drawn directly on "lithographie" paper, are perhaps half as numerous as his etchings. Some of the lithographs are of figures slightly draped; two or three of the very finest are of Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 subjects—including a "nocturne" at Limehouse; while others depict the Faubourg Saint-Germain
Paris districts
Most of the Paris we see today is a result of a nineteenth-century renovation, but its boulevards and arrondissements were but a new grid bisecting quarters built by centuries of Parisian habit; as a result of this, Paris has many quarters that are not necessarily mentioned on any administrative...

 in Paris, and Georgian churches in Soho
Soho
Soho is an area of the City of Westminster and part of the West End of London. Long established as an entertainment district, for much of the 20th century Soho had a reputation for sex shops as well as night life and film industry. Since the early 1980s, the area has undergone considerable...

 and Bloomsbury in London. The etchings include portraits of family, mistresses, and intimate street scenes in London and Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

.

Butterfly signature

Whistler's famous butterfly signature first developed in the 1860s out of his interest in Asian art. He studied the potter's marks on the china he had begun to collect and decided to design a monogram of his initials. Over time this evolved into the shape of an abstract butterfly. By around 1880, he added a stinger to the butterfly image to create a mark representing both his gentle, sensitive nature and his provocative, feisty spirit. He took great care in the appropriate placement of the image on both his paintings and his custom-made frames. His focus on the importance of balance and harmony extended beyond the frame to the placement of his paintings to their settings, and further to the design of an entire architectural element, as in the Peacock Room.

The Peacock Room

Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room is Whistler's masterpiece of interior decorative mural art. He painted the paneled room in a rich and unified palette of brilliant blue-greens with over-glazing and metallic gold leaf. Painted in 1876–77, it now is considered a high example of the Anglo-Japanese style
Anglo-Japanese style
Anglo-Japanese is a term used to describe a style which developed in the period from approximately 1851 to 1900, when a new awareness of, and appreciation for Japanese design and culture affected the art, especially the decorative art, and architecture of England. The first use of the term occurs...

. Unhappy with the first decorative result by another artist, Frederick Leyland left the room in Whistler's care to make minor changes, "to harmonize" the room whose primary purpose was to display Leyland's china collection. Whistler let his imagination run wild, however, "Well, you know, I just painted on. I went on—without design or sketch—putting in every touch with such freedom…And the harmony in blue and gold developing, you know, I forgot everything in my joy of it."

Upon returning, Leyland was shocked by the "improvements." Artist and patron quarreled so violently over the room and the proper compensation for the work that the important relationship for Whistler was terminated. At one point, Whistler gained access to Leyland's home and painted two fighting peacocks meant to represent the artist and his patron; one holds a paint brush and the other holds a bag of money.

Whistler is reported to have said to Leyland, "Ah, I have made you famous. My work will live when you are forgotten. Still, per chance, in the dim ages to come you will be remembered as the proprietor of the Peacock Room." Adding to the emotional drama was Whistler's fondness for Leyland's wife, Frances, who separated from her husband in 1879.

Having acquired the centerpiece of the room, Whistler's painting of The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, American industrialist and aesthete Charles Lang Freer
Charles Lang Freer
Charles Lang Freer was an American railroad-car manufacturer from Detroit, Michigan who gave to the United States his art collections and funds for a building to house them. The Freer Gallery of Art founded by him is part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C..-Early life:Freer was...

 purchased the entire room in 1904 from Leyland's heirs, including Leyland's daughter and her husband, the British artist Val Prinsep
Valentine Cameron Prinsep
Valentine Cameron Prinsep, often known as Val Princep, was a British painter of the Pre-Raphaelite school.-Early life:...

. Freer then had the contents of the Peacock Room installed in his Detroit mansion
Mansion
A mansion is a very large dwelling house. U.S. real estate brokers define a mansion as a dwelling of over . A traditional European mansion was defined as a house which contained a ballroom and tens of bedrooms...

. After Freer's death in 1919, the Peacock Room was permanently installed in the Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
The Freer Gallery of Art joins the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery to form the Smithsonian Institution's national museums of Asian art. The Freer contains art from East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Islamic world, the ancient Near East, and ancient Egypt, as well as a significant collection of...

 at the Smithsonian
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 in Washington, D.C. The gallery opened to the public in 1923.

Ruskin trial

In 1877 Whistler sued the critic John Ruskin
John Ruskin
John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political...

 for libel after the critic condemned his painting Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket. Whistler exhibited the work in the Grosvenor Gallery
Grosvenor Gallery
The Grosvenor Gallery was an art gallery in London founded in 1877 by Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife Blanche. Its first directors were J. Comyns Carr and Charles Hallé...

, an alternative to the Royal Academy exhibition, alongside Edward Burne-Jones
Edward Burne-Jones
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet was a British artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris on a wide range of decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Company...

 and other artists. Ruskin, who had been a champion of the Pre-Raphaelites
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti...

 and J. M. W. Turner
J. M. W. Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner RA was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting...

, reviewed Whistler's work in his publication Fors Clavigera on July 2, 1877. Ruskin praised Burne-Jones, while he attacked Whistler:
For Mr. Whistler's own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay [founder of the Grosvenor Gallery
Grosvenor Gallery
The Grosvenor Gallery was an art gallery in London founded in 1877 by Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife Blanche. Its first directors were J. Comyns Carr and Charles Hallé...

] ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly 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
Guinea (British coin)
The guinea is a coin that was minted in the Kingdom of England and later in the Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom between 1663 and 1813...

 for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face.


Whistler, seeing the attack in the newspaper, replied to his friend George Boughton, "It is the most debased style of criticism I have had thrown at me yet." He then went to his solicitor and drew up a writ for libel which was served to Ruskin. Whistler hoped to recover £1,000 plus the costs of the action. The case came to trial the following year after delays caused by Ruskin's bouts of mental illness, while Whistler's financial condition continued to deteriorate. It was heard at the Queen's Bench of the High Court on November 25 and 26 of 1878. The lawyer for John Ruskin, Attorney General Sir John Holker, cross examined Whistler:
Whistler had counted on many artists to take his side as witnesses, but they refused fearing damage to their reputations. The other witnesses for him were unconvincing and the jury's own reaction to the work was derisive. With Ruskin's witnesses more impressive, including Edward Burne-Jones
Edward Burne-Jones
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet was a British artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris on a wide range of decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Company...

, and with Ruskin absent for medical reasons, Whistler's counter-attack was ineffective. Nonetheless, the jury reached a verdict in favor of Whistler, but awarded a mere farthing in nominal damages, and the court costs were split. The cost of the case, together with huge debts from building his residence ("The White House" in Tite Street
Tite Street
Tite Street is a street in Chelsea, London, The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, England, just north of the River Thames. It was created in 1877, giving access to the Chelsea Embankment. In the late nineteenth century the street was a favoured and fashionable location for people of an...

, Chelsea
Chelsea, London
Chelsea is an area of West London, England, bounded to the south by the River Thames, where its frontage runs from Chelsea Bridge along the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk, Lots Road and Chelsea Harbour. Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above...

, designed with E. W. Godwin
Edward William Godwin
Edward William Godwin was a progressive English architect-designer, who began his career working in the strongly polychromatic "Ruskinian Gothic" style of mid-Victorian Britain, inspired by The Stones of Venice, then moved on to provide designs in the "Anglo-Japanese taste" of the Aesthetic...

, 1877–8), bankrupted him by May 1879, resulting in an auction of his work, collections, and house. Stansky notes the irony that the Fine Art Society of London
Fine Art Society
The Fine Art Society is an art dealership with two premises, one in New Bond Street, London and the other in Edinburgh . It was formed in 1876...

, which had organized a collection to pay for Ruskin's legal costs, supported him in etching "the stones of Venice"
The Stones of Venice (book)
The Stones of Venice is a three-volume treatise on Venetian art and architecture by English art historian John Ruskin, first published from 1851 to 1853. Intending to prove how the architecture in Venice exemplified the principles he discussed in his earlier work, The Seven Lamps of Architecture,...

 (and in exhibiting the series in 1883) which helped recoup Whistler's costs.

Whistler published his account of the trial in the pamphlet
Pamphlet
A pamphlet is an unbound booklet . It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths , or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book...

 Whistler v. Ruskin: Art and Art Critics, included in his later The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (1890), in December 1878, soon after the trial. Whistler's grand hope that the publicity of the trial would rescue his career was dashed as patrons avoided him for years to come. Among his creditors was Leyland, who oversaw the sale of Whistler's possessions. Whistler made various caricatures of his former patron, including a biting satirical painting called The Gold Scab, just after Whistler declared bankruptcy. Whistler always blamed Leyland for his financial downfall.

Later years

After the trial, Whistler received a commission to do twelve etchings in Venice. He eagerly accepted the assignment, and arrived in the city with girlfriend Maud, taking rooms in a dilapidated palazzo they shared with other artists, including John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was an American artist, considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings...

. Although homesick for London, he adapted to Venice and set about discovering its character. He did his best to distract himself from the gloom of his financial affairs and the pending sale of all his goods at Sotheby's
Sotheby's
Sotheby's is the world's fourth oldest auction house in continuous operation.-History:The oldest auction house in operation is the Stockholms Auktionsverk founded in 1674, the second oldest is Göteborgs Auktionsverk founded in 1681 and third oldest being founded in 1731, all Swedish...

. He was a regular guest at parties at the American consulate, and with his usual wit, enchanted the guests with verbal flourishes such as "the artist's only positive virtue is idleness—and there are so few who are gifted at it."

His new friends reported, on the contrary, that Whistler rose early and put in a full day of effort. He wrote to a friend, "I have learned to know Venice in Venice that the others never seem to have perceived, and which, if I bring back with me as I propose, will far more than compensate for all annoyances delays & vexations of spirit." The three month assignment stretched to fourteen months. During this exceptionally productive period, Whistler finished over fifty etchings, several nocturnes, some watercolors, and over 100 pastels—illustrating both the moods of Venice and its fine architectural details. Furthermore, Whistler influenced the American art community in Venice, especially Frank Duveneck
Frank Duveneck
Frank Duveneck was an American figure and portrait painter.-Youth:Duveneck was born in Covington, Kentucky, the son of German immigrant Bernard Decker. Decker died when Frank was only a year old and his widow remarried Joseph Duveneck...

 and Robert Blum
Robert Frederick Blum
Robert Frederick Blum was an American artist born in Cincinnati, Ohio.He was employed for a time in a lithographic shop, and studied at the McMicken Art School of Design in Cincinnati, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, but he was practically self-taught, and early...

 who emulated Whistler's vision of city and later spread his methods and influence back to America.

Back in London, the pastels sold particularly well and he quipped, "They are not as good as I supposed. They are selling!" He was actively engaged in exhibiting his other work but with limited success. Though still struggling financially, however, he was heartened by the attention and admiration he received from the young generation of English and American painters who made him their idol and eagerly adopted the title of "pupil of Whistler". Many of them returned to America and spread tales of Whistler's provocative egotism, sharp wit, and aesthetic pronouncements—establishing the legend of Whistler, much to his great satisfaction.

Whistler published his first book, Ten O’clock Lecture in 1885, a major expression of his belief in "art for art's sake". At the time, the opposing Victorian notion reigned, namely, that art, and indeed much human activity, had a moral or social function. To Whistler, however, art was its own end and the artist's responsibility was not to society, but to himself, to interpret through art, and to neither reproduce nor moralize what he saw. Furthermore, he stated, "Nature is very rarely right", and must be improved upon by the artist, with his own vision.

Though differing with Whistler on several points, including his insistence that poetry was a higher form of art than painting, Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

 was generous in his praise and hailed the lecture a masterpiece:
"not merely for its clever satire and amusing jests…but for the pure and perfect beauty of many of its passages . . . for that he is indeed one of the very greatest masters of painting, in my opinion. And I may add that in this opinion Mr. Whistler himself entirely concurs."


Whistler, however, thought himself mocked by Oscar Wilde, and from then on, public sparring ensued leading to a total breakdown of their friendship. Later, Wilde struck at Whistler again, basing the murdered artist in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890, printed as the July 1890 issue of this magazine...

after Whistler.

In January 1881, Anna Whistler died. In his mother's honor, thereafter, he publicly adopted her maiden name McNeill as a middle name.

Whistler joined the Society of British Artists in 1884, and on June 1, 1886, he was elected president. The following year, during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, Whistler presented to the Queen, on the Society's behalf, an elaborate album including a lengthy written address and illustrations that he made. Queen Victoria so admired "the beautiful and artistic illumination" that she decreed henceforth, "that the Society should be called Royal." This achievement was widely appreciated by the members, but soon it was overshadowed by the dispute that inevitably arose with the Royal Academy of Arts. Whistler proposed that members of the Royal Society should withdraw from the Royal Academy. This ignited a feud within the membership ranks that overshadowed all other society business. In May 1888, nine members wrote to Whistler to demand his resignation. At the annual meeting on June 4, he was defeated for reelection by a vote of 18–19, with nine abstentions. Whistler and twenty-five supporters resigned, while the anti-Whistler majority (in his view) was successful in purging him for his "eccentricities" and "non-English" background.

With his relationship with Maud unraveling, Whistler suddenly proposed to and married Beatrice ("Trixie") Godwin (née Beatrix Birnie Philip), a former pupil and the former wife of his architect Edward William Godwin
Edward William Godwin
Edward William Godwin was a progressive English architect-designer, who began his career working in the strongly polychromatic "Ruskinian Gothic" style of mid-Victorian Britain, inspired by The Stones of Venice, then moved on to provide designs in the "Anglo-Japanese taste" of the Aesthetic...

, who had died two years earlier. Her respectability and connections helped bring him badly needed commissions in the early 1890s. His book, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, was published in 1890 to mixed success, but it afforded helpful publicity.
In 1890, he met Charles Lang Freer
Charles Lang Freer
Charles Lang Freer was an American railroad-car manufacturer from Detroit, Michigan who gave to the United States his art collections and funds for a building to house them. The Freer Gallery of Art founded by him is part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C..-Early life:Freer was...

, who became a valuable patron in America, and ultimately, his most important collector. Around this time, in addition to portraiture, Whistler experimented with early color photography
Color photography
Color photography is photography that uses media capable of representing colors, which are traditionally produced chemically during the photographic processing phase...

 and with lithography
Lithography
Lithography is a method for printing using a stone or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface...

, creating a series featuring London architecture and the human figure, mostly female nudes. In 1891, with help from his close friend Stéphane Mallarmé, Whistler's Mother was purchased by the French government for 4,000 francs. This was much less than what an American collector might have paid, but that would not have been so prestigious by Whistler's reckoning.

After an indifferent reception to his solo show in London, featuring mostly his nocturnes, Whistler abruptly decided he had had enough of London. He and Trixie moved to Paris in 1892. He felt welcomed by Monet, Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin
François-Auguste-René Rodin , known as Auguste Rodin , was a French sculptor. Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past...

, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa or simply Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a French painter, printmaker, draughtsman, and illustrator, whose immersion in the colourful and theatrical life of fin de siècle Paris yielded an œuvre of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern...

, and by Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé , whose real name was Étienne Mallarmé, was a French poet and critic. He was a major French symbolist poet, and his work anticipated and inspired several revolutionary artistic schools of the early 20th century, such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.-Biography:Stéphane...

, and he set himself up a large studio. He was at the top of his career when it was discovered that Trixie had cancer. They returned to London in February 1896, taking rooms at the Savoy Hotel
Savoy Hotel
The Savoy Hotel is a hotel located on the Strand, in the City of Westminster in central London. Built by impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the hotel opened on 6 August 1889. It was the first in the Savoy group of hotels and restaurants owned by...

 while they sought medical treatment. He made drawings on lithographic transfer paper of the view of the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

, from the hotel window or balcony, as he sat with her. She died a few months later.

In the final seven years of his life, Whistler did some minimalist seascapes in watercolor and a final self-portrait in oil. He corresponded with his many friends and colleagues. Whistler founded an art school in 1898, but his poor health and infrequent appearances led to its closure in 1901. He died in London on July 17, 1903.

Whistler was the subject of a contemporaneous biography by his friend, the printmaker Joseph Pennell
Joseph Pennell
Joseph Pennell was an American artist and author.-Biography:Born in Philadelphia, and first studied there, but like his compatriot and friend, James McNeill Whistler, he afterwards went to Europe and made his home in London...

 who collaborated with his wife Elizabeth Robins Pennell
Elizabeth Robins Pennell
Elizabeth Robins Pennell was an American writer who, for most of her adult life, made her home in London...

 to write The Life of James McNeill Whistler, published in 1908. The Pennells' vast collection of Whistler material was bequeathed to the Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

. The artist's entire estate was left to his sister-in-law Rosalind Birnie Philip. She spent her life defending his reputation and managing his art and effects, much of which eventually was donated to Glasgow University.

Personal relationships

Whistler had a distinctive appearance, short and slight, with piercing eyes and a curling moustache, often sporting a monocle and the flashy attire of a dandy. He affected a posture of self-confidence and eccentricity. He often was arrogant and selfish toward friends and patrons. A constant self-promoter and egoist, he relished shocking friends and enemies. Though he could be droll and flippant about social and political matters, he always was serious about art and often invited public controversy and debate to argue for his strongly held theories.

Whistler had a high-pitched drawling voice and a unique manner of speech, full of calculated pauses. A friend said, "In a second you discover that he is not conversing—he is sketching in words, giving impressions in sound and sense to be interpreted by the hearer."

Whistler was well known for his biting wit, especially in exchanges with his friend and rival Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

. Both were figures in the Café society
Café Society
Café society was the collective description for the so-called "Beautiful People" and "Bright Young Things" who gathered in fashionable cafes and restaurants in New York, Paris, and London beginning in the late 19th century...

 of Paris, and they were often the "talk of the town". They frequently appeared as caricatures in Punch
Punch (magazine)
Punch, or the London Charivari was a British weekly magazine of humour and satire established in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells. Historically, it was most influential in the 1840s and 50s, when it helped to coin the term "cartoon" in its modern sense as a humorous illustration...

, to their mutual amusement. On one occasion, young Oscar Wilde attended one of Whistler's dinners, and hearing his host make some brilliant remark, apparently said, "I wish I'd said that", to which Whistler riposted, "You will, Oscar, you will!" In fact, Wilde did repeat in public many witticisms created by Whistler. Their relationship soured by the mid-1880s, as Whistler turned against Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement. When Wilde was publicly acknowledged to be a homosexual in 1895, Whistler openly mocked him. Whistler reveled in preparing and managing his social gatherings. As a guest observed:
One met all the best in Society there—the people with brains, and those who had enough to appreciate them. Whistler was an inimitable host. He loved to be the Sun round whom we lesser lights revolved…All came under his influence, and in consequence no one was bored, no one dull.


In Paris Whistler was friends with members of the symbolist circle of artists, writers and poets that included Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé , whose real name was Étienne Mallarmé, was a French poet and critic. He was a major French symbolist poet, and his work anticipated and inspired several revolutionary artistic schools of the early 20th century, such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.-Biography:Stéphane...

  and Marcel Schwob
Marcel Schwob
Marcel Schwob was a Jewish French writer.-Biography:He was born in Chaville, Hauts-de-Seine on 23 August 1867...

. Schwob had met Whistler in the mid-1890s through Stéphane Mallarmé they had other mutual friends including Oscar Wilde (until they argued) and Whistler 's brother-in-law, Charles Whibley
Charles Whibley
Charles Whibley was an English literary journalist and author. Whibley’s style was described by Matthew as “often acerbic high-tory commentary”.-Life:...

.

In addition to Henri Fantin-Latour, Alphonse Legros, and Courbet, Whistler was friendly with many French artists. He illustrated the book Les Chauves-Souris with Antonio de La Gandara
Antonio de La Gandara
Antonio de la Gándara was a French painter, pastellist and draughtsman.-Biography:He was born in Paris, France, but his father was of Spanish ancestry, born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and his mother was from England. La Gandara's talent was strongly influenced by both cultures...

. He also knew the impressionists
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

, notably Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet was a French painter. One of the first 19th-century artists to approach modern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism....

, Monet, and Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas[p] , born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist...

. As a young artist, he maintained a close friendship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement,...

, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti...

. His close friendship with Monet and poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who translated the ‘’Ten O’clock Lecture’’ into French, helped strengthen respect for Whistler by the French public. Whistler was friendly with his fellow students at Gleyre's studio, including Ignace Schott
Ignace Schott
Ignace Schott de Dabo generally known by the name Ignace Schott, he was a French born artist, etcher and teacher. Born in Dabo, Moselle in the Lorraine region of France, he was a successful ecclesiastic decorator. He worked mostly as a mural painter but also in stained glass and many of his...

, whose son Leon Dabo
Leon Dabo
Leon Dabo was an American tonalist landscape artist best known for his paintings of New York, particularly the Hudson Valley. His paintings were known for their feeling of spaciousness, with large areas of the canvas that had little but land, sea, or clouds...

 Whistler later would mentor.

Whistler's lover and model for The White Girl, Joanna Hiffernan
Joanna Hiffernan
Joanna "Jo" Hiffernan was an Irish artists' model and muse who was romantically linked with American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler and French painter Gustave Courbet.-Early life:Hiffernan was a Roman Catholic...

, also posed for Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet
Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet was a French painter who led the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting. The Realist movement bridged the Romantic movement , with the Barbizon School and the Impressionists...

. Historians speculate that Courbet's erotic painting of her as L'Origine du monde
L'Origine du monde
L’Origine du monde is an oil-on-canvas painted by French artist Gustave Courbet in 1866. It is a close-up view of the genitals and abdomen of a naked woman, lying on a bed with legs spread...

 led to the breakup of the friendship between Whistler and Courbet. During the 1870s and much of the 1880s, he lived with his model-mistress Maud Franklin. Her ability to endure his long, repetitive sittings helped Whistler develop his portrait skills. He not only made several excellent portraits of her but she was also a helpful stand-in for other sitters.

In 1888, Whistler married Beatrix Godwin, the widow of the architect E. W. Godwin
Edward William Godwin
Edward William Godwin was a progressive English architect-designer, who began his career working in the strongly polychromatic "Ruskinian Gothic" style of mid-Victorian Britain, inspired by The Stones of Venice, then moved on to provide designs in the "Anglo-Japanese taste" of the Aesthetic...

, who had designed Whistler's White House. Beatrix was the daughter of the sculptor John Birnie Philip
John Birnie Philip
.John Birnie Philip was a notable English sculptor of the 19th century.He studied at the Government School of Design at Somerset House in London under John Rogers Herbert, and then at Herbert's own newly opened school in Maddox Street. He worked in Pugin's wood carving workshop at the Palace of...

 and his wife Frances Black. Beatrix and her sisters Rosalind Birnie Philip and Ethel Whibley
Ethel Whibley
Ethel Whibley née Birnie Philip, , was the sister-in-law of James McNeill Whistler. Ethel was a secretary to Whistler who used Ethel as a model for a number of full-length portraits painted during the period 1888 to the mid 1890's.Ethel was born at Chelsea, London on 29 September 1861...

 posed for many of Whistler's paintings and drawings; with Ethel Whibley being the model for Mother of pearl and silver: The Andalusian (1888–1900). The first five years of their marriage were very happy but her later life was a time of misery for the couple, because of her illness and eventual death from cancer. Near the end, she lay comatose much of the time, completely addicted to morphine given for pain relief. Her death was a strong blow Whistler never quite overcame. Whistler had several illegitimate children, of which Charles Hanson is the best documented.

Legacy

Whistler was inspired by and incorporated many sources in his art, including the work of Rembrandt, Velázquez, Japanese art, and ancient Greek sculpture to develop his own highly influential and individual style. He was adept in many media, with over 500 paintings, as well as etchings, pastels, watercolors, drawings, and lithographs. Whistler was a leader in the Aesthetic Movement, promoting, writing, and lecturing on the "art for art's sake" philosophy. With his pupils, he advocated simple design, economy of means, the avoidance of overly-labored technique, and the tonal harmony of the final result. Whistler has been the subject of many major museum exhibitions, studies, and publications. Like the Impressionists, he employed nature as an artistic resource. Whistler insisted that it was the artist's obligation to interpret what he saw, not be a slave to reality, and to "bring forth from chaos glorious harmony.

During his life, he affected two generations of artists, in Europe and in the United States. Whistler had significant contact and exchanged ideas and ideals with Realist, Impressionist, and Symbolist painters. Famous protégés for a time included Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

 and impressionist painter Walter Sickert
Walter Sickert
Walter Richard Sickert , born in Munich, Germany, was a painter who was a member of the Camden Town Group in London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century....

. His tonalism had a profound effect on many American artists, including John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was an American artist, considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings...

, William Merritt Chase
William Merritt Chase
William Merritt Chase was an American painter known as an exponent of Impressionism and as a teacher. He is also responsible for establishing the Chase School, which later would become Parsons The New School for Design.- Early life and training :He was born in Williamsburg , Indiana, to the family...

, and Willis Seaver Adams
Willis Seaver Adams
Willis Seaver Adams was a landscape painter who studied under James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium and was part of the Tonalism movement, which took place in the late 19th century....

 (whom he befriended in Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

). Another significant influence was upon Arthur Frank Mathews
Arthur Frank Mathews
Arthur F. Mathews was an American Tonalist painter who was one of the founders of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Trained as an architect and artist, he and his wife Lucia Kleinhans Mathews had a significant effect on the evolution of Californian art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries...

, whom Whistler met in Paris in the late 1890s. Mathews took Whistler's Tonalism
Tonalism
Tonalism was an artistic style that emerged in the 1880s when American artists began to paint landscape forms with an overall tone of colored atmosphere or mist. Between 1880 and 1915, dark, neutral hues such as gray, brown or blue, often dominated compositions by artists associated with the style...

 to San Francisco, spawning a broad use of that technique among turn of the century California artists. As American critic Charles Caffin wrote in 1907:
"He did better than attract a few followers and imitators; he influenced the whole world of art. Consciously, or unconsciously, his presence is felt in countless studios; his genius permeates modern artistic thought."


During a trip to Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 in 1880, Whistler created a series of etchings and pastels that not only reinvigorated his finances, but also re-energized the way in which artists and photographers interpreted the city—focusing on the back alleys, side canals, entrance ways, and architectural patterns—and capturing the city's unique atmospherics.
In 1940 Whistler was commemorated on a United States postage stamp when the U.S. Post Office issued a set of 35 stamps commemorating America's famous Authors, Poets, Educators, Scientists, Composers, Artists, and Inventors: the 'Famous Americans Series'.

The Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...

 operetta Patience
Patience (opera)
Patience; or, Bunthorne's Bride, is a comic opera in two acts with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. First performed at the Opera Comique, London, on 23 April 1881, it moved to the 1,292-seat Savoy Theatre on 10 October 1881, where it was the first theatrical production in the...

pokes fun at the Aesthetic movement, and the lead character of Reginald Bunthorne is often identified as a send-up of Oscar Wilde, though Bunthorne is more likely an amalgam of several prominent artists, writers, and Aesthetic figures. Bunthorne wears a monocle and has prominent white streaks in his dark hair, as did Whistler.

The house in which Whistler was born is now preserved as the Whistler House Museum of Art
Whistler House Museum of Art
The Whistler House Museum of Art is the birthplace of painter and etcher James McNeill Whistler. It is located at 243 Worthen Street, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA, and is open as a museum displaying works from the Museum collection and shows by artist members....

. He is buried at St. Nicholas's Church in Chiswick
Chiswick
Chiswick is a large suburb of west London, England and part of the London Borough of Hounslow. It is located on a meander of the River Thames, west of Charing Cross and is one of 35 major centres identified in the London Plan. It was historically an ancient parish in the county of Middlesex, with...

.

Honors

Whistler achieved worldwide recognition during his lifetime:
  • 1884, elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich
  • 1892, made an officer of the Légion d'honneur
    Légion d'honneur
    The Legion of Honour, or in full the National Order of the Legion of Honour is a French order established by Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of the Consulat which succeeded to the First Republic, on 19 May 1802...

     in France
  • 1898, became a charter member and first president, International Society of Sculptors, Painters, & Gravers

Auction records

On October 27, 2010, Swann Galleries
Swann Galleries
Swann Galleries is a New York auction house founded in 1941. It is a specialist auctioneer of antique and rare works on paper, and it is considered the oldest continually operating New York specialist auction house....

 set a record price for a Whistler print at auction, when Nocturne, an etching and drypoint printed in black on warm, cream Japan paper, 1879–80 sold for $282,000. It was likely one of the first etchings Whistler made for the Fine Art Society on his arrival in Venice in September 1879 and also one of his most celebrated views of the city.

See also

  • Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl
    Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl
    Symphony in White, No. 2, also known as The Little White Girl is a painting by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The work shows a woman in three-quarter figure standing by a fireplace with a mirror over it. She is holding a fan in her hand, and wearing a white dress. The model is Joanna Heffernan, the...

  • Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge
    Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge
    Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge is a painting by the American-born British artist James McNeill Whistler, now held in the collections of Tate Britain. It was painted around 1872–5....

    (c. 1872–5)
  • Western painting
    Western painting
    The history of Western painting represents a continuous, though disrupted, tradition from antiquity. Until the mid-19th century it was primarily concerned with representational and Classical modes of production, after which time more modern, abstract and conceptual forms gained favor.Developments...

  • John Wharlton Bunney
    John Wharlton Bunney
    John Wharlton Bunney was an English topographical and landscape artist of the nineteenth century.His father was a merchant captain whom Bunney, as a boy, accompanied on several voyages around the world. Bunney demonstrated a strong talent for drawing and draftsmanship from an early age...


Further reading

  • Curry, David Park, James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. New York: W. W. Norton and Freer Gallery of Art, 1984.
  • Denker, Eric, Whistler in Venice. ISBN 1-85894-200-4
  • MacDonald, Margaret F., Galassi, Susan Grace and Ribeiro, Aileen, Whistler, Women, & Fashion, Frick Collection/Yale University (2003)
  • Merrill, Linda, et al., After Whistler: The Artist and his Influence on American Painting. ISBN 0-300-10125-2
  • Merrill, Linda, The Peacock Room: A Cultural Biography. Washington, D.C.: Freer Gallery of Art, in association with Yale University Press, 1998.
  • Merrill, Linda, and Sarah Ridley, The Princess and the Peacocks; or, The Story of the [Peacock] Room. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, in association with the Freer Gallery of Art, 1993.
  • Peters, Lisa N., James McNeil Whistler. ISBN 1-880908-70-0.
  • Spencer, Robin, Whistler: A Retrospective. ISBN 0-517-05773-5
  • Spencer, Robin, Whistler. ISBN 1-85170-904-5

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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