James Abbott McNeill Whistler Biography

James Abbott McNeill Whistler




James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on July 11, 1834. At age nine Whistler and his family moved to Russia; it was there he received his first drawing lessons at the St. Petersburg Academy in 1845. On the death of his father in 1849 the family returned to America.

In 1851 he became a cadet at the military college at West Point, but decided to follow art as a profession. Traveling to Paris, he entered the studio of Gleyre in 1856, and it was at this time he was introduced to Fantin-Latour and Courbet, who would be greatly influential to the young artist, among other friends including Manet, Monet and Degas. On his rejection by the Salon in 1859 he left Paris for London. His work during this period began showing the Japanese influence, as woodcut techniques became a fixture in his studies.

More travel led him to Chile and England, and around 1860 his first "nocturnes" were produced, an exquisite series of Thames etchings intended to capture the poetic mood of pictorial and musical harmony. This theme was to hold his attention for nearly a decade. From the 1870s he increasingly turned to painting portraits, which formed his major source of income until the late 1800s. In 1878 he sued leading art critic Ruskin for libel, and despite winning a moral victory, was driven into bankruptcy by the cost of the action. However, this did not deter the artist, and he would grow rapidly in talent and fame soon enough.

From 1886 to 1888 he was the president of the Society of British Artists, and in 1892 the Goupil Gallery in London arranged a successful one-man exhibition of his work. Whistler's aesthetic approach found expression in the subtle effect of delicate colors and tone values, his portraits, landscapes and interiors exercising great charm. His manner of painting owes less to the analytical technique of Impressionism, but rather more to the color impressionism developed in the 17th century.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler died in London on July 17, 1903.