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Main article: "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 No.1, but usually (and incorrectly) referred to as "Whistler's Mother. A model failed to appear one day, according to a letter from his mother, so Whistler turned to his mother and suggested that 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 seated pose was adopted. It took dozens of sittings to complete.[53]

Whistler's mother, Anna Whistler circa 1850s.

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 the rectangles of curtain, picture on the 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.[54] In reality, however, it was an 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.[53]

The public reacted negatively, mostly because of its anti-Victorian simplicity during a time in England when sentimentality and flamboyant decoration were in vogue. 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.[55]

From the start, Whistler's Mother sparked varying reactions, including parody, ridicule, and reverence, which have continued to today. 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 and "Bullwinkle the Moose.[56] 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.[57]

The painting narrowly escaped being burnt in a fire aboard a train during shipping.[55] 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 in Paris.

~ Whistler's Mother ~
Issue of 1934

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.[58]

In 2015, the New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote that the paining "remains the most important American work residing outside the United States."[59]

In summing up the painting's impact author Martha Tedeschi has stated:

"Whistler's Mother, "Wood's "American Gothic, "Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa and "Edvard Munch's "The Scream 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."[60]

Other portraits[edit]

Whistler in his Studio 1865, self-portrait

Other important portraits by Whistler include those of "Thomas Carlyle (historian,1873), "Maud Franklin (his mistress, 1876), Cicely Alexander (daughter of a London banker, 1873), "Lady Meux (socialite, 1882), and "Théodore Duret (critic, 1884). In the 1870s, Whistler painted full length portraits of "F.R. Leyland and his wife Frances. Leyland subsequently commissioned the artist to decorate his dining room (see Peacock Room below).[61]

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."[62]

Whistler was not so successful a portrait painter as the other famous expatriate American "John Singer Sargent. 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 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."[63] By the time he gained widespread acceptance in the 1890s, Whistler was past his prime as a portrait painter.[64]


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.[65]


"Zaandam, the Netherlands, c. 1889 - etching by James McNeill Whistler

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 subjects—including a "nocturne" at Limehouse; while others depict the "Faubourg Saint-Germain in Paris, and Georgian churches in "Soho and "Bloomsbury in London.

The etchings include portraits of family, mistresses, and intimate street scenes in London and "Venice.[66] Whistler gained an enormous reputation as an etcher. Martin Hardie wrote "there are some who set him beside Rembrandt, perhaps above Rembrandt, as the greatest master of all time. Personally, I prefer to regard them as the Jupiter and Venus, largest and brightest among the planets in the etcher's heaven." [67] He took great care over the printing of his etchings and the choice of paper. At the beginning and end of his career, he placed great emphasis on cleanness of line, though in a middle period he experimented more with inking and the use of plate-tone.[68]

Butterfly signature and painting settings[edit]

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.[69] 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.[48]

The Peacock Room[edit]

The Peacock Room
The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, in situ in the Peacock Room, "Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room[70] 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. Unhappy with the first decorative result of the original scheme designed by Thomas Jeckyll (1827-1881), 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." He completely painted over 16th-century Cordoba leather wall coverings first brought to Britain by Catherine of Aragon that Leyland had paid £1,000 for.[71]

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 purchased the entire room in 1904 from Leyland's heirs, including Leyland's daughter and her husband, the British artist "Val Prinsep. Freer then had the contents of the Peacock Room installed in "his Detroit mansion. After Freer's death in 1919, the Peacock Room was permanently installed in the "Freer Gallery of Art at the "Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The gallery opened to the public in 1923.[72] A large painted caricature by Whistler of Leyland portraying him as an anthropomorphic peacock playing a piano, and entitled The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre[73] - a pun on Leyland's fondness for frilly shirt fronts - is now in the collection of the "Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Ruskin trial[edit]

In 1877 Whistler sued the critic "John Ruskin for libel after the critic condemned his painting "Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket. Whistler exhibited the work in the "Grosvenor Gallery, an alternative to the Royal Academy exhibition, alongside works by "Edward Burne-Jones and other artists. Ruskin, who had been a champion of the "Pre-Raphaelites and "J. M. W. Turner, 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] 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 for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face.[74]

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.[75] 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.[76] 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:

Holker: "What is the subject of Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket?"
Whistler: "It is a night piece and represents the fireworks at "Cremorne Gardens."
Holker: "Not a view of Cremorne?"
Whistler: "If it were A View of Cremorne it would certainly bring about nothing but disappointment on the part of the beholders. It is an artistic arrangement. That is why I call it a nocturne...."
Holker: "Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?"
Whistler: "Oh, I 'knock one off' possibly in a couple of days – one day to do the work and another to finish it..." [the painting measures 24 3/4 x 18 3/8 inches]
Holker: "The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?"
Whistler: "No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime."[77]

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, 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.[78] The cost of the case, together with huge debts from building his residence ("The White House" in "Tite Street, "Chelsea, designed with "E. W. Godwin, 1877–8), bankrupted him by May 1879,[79] resulting in an auction of his work, collections, and house. Stansky[80] notes the irony that the "Fine Art Society of London, which had organized a collection to pay for Ruskin's legal costs, supported him in etching ""The Stones of Venice" (and in exhibiting the series in 1883), which helped recoup Whistler's costs.

Whistler published his account of the trial in the "pamphlet Whistler v. Ruskin: Art and Art Critics,[81] 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 he lost rather than gained popularity among patrons because of it. Among his creditors was Leyland, who oversaw the sale of Whistler's possessions.[82] 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.[83]

Later years[edit]

"Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian (1888–1900), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.[84] (Model: "Ethel Whibley)

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.[85] 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. 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."[86]

His new friends reported, on the contrary, that Whistler rose early and put in a full day of effort.[87] He wrote to a friend, "I have learned to know a 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."[88] 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.[85] Furthermore, Whistler influenced the American art community in Venice, especially "Frank Duveneck (and Duveneck's 'boys') and "Robert Blum who emulated Whistler's vision of city and later spread his methods and influence back to America.[89]

Back in London, the pastels sold particularly well and he quipped, "They are not as good as I supposed. They are selling!"[90] 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 younger generation of English and American painters who made him their idol and eagerly adopted the title "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.[90]

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.[91] Furthermore, he stated, "Nature is very rarely right", and must be improved upon by the artist, with his own vision.[92]

Though differing with Whistler on several points, including his insistence that poetry was a higher form of art than painting,[93] "Oscar Wilde 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."[91]

Whistler, however, thought himself mocked by Oscar Wilde, and from then on, public sparring ensued leading to a total breakdown of their friendship.[94] Later, Wilde struck at Whistler again, basing the murdered artist in his novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray after Whistler.[95]

In January 1881, Anna Whistler died. In his mother's honor, thereafter, he publicly adopted her maiden name McNeill as a middle name.[96]

The Barrow, "Brussels, 1887, etching and "drypoint

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,[97] while the anti-Whistler majority (in his view) was successful in purging him for his "eccentricities" and "non-English" background.[98]

With his relationship with Maud unraveling, Whistler suddenly proposed to and married "Beatrice Godwin (also called 'Beatrix' or 'Trixie'), a former pupil and the widow of his architect "Edward William Godwin. Through his friendship with Godwin, Whistler had become close to Beatrice, whom Whistler painted in the full-length portrait titled Harmony in Red: Lamplight (GLAHA 46315).[99][100] By the summer of 1888 Whistler and Beatrice appeared in public as a couple. At a dinner "Louise Jopling and "Henry Labouchère insisted that they should be married before the end of the week.[101] The marriage ceremony was arranged, as a member of parliament, Labouchère arranged for "the Chaplain to the House of Commons to marry the couple.[101] No publicity was given to the ceremony to avoid the possibility of a furious "Maud Franklin interrupting the marriage ceremony.[101] The marriage took place on 11 August 1888, with the ceremony attended by a reporter from the "Pall Mall Gazette, so that the event receive publicity. The couple left soon after for Paris, to avoid any risk of a scene with Maud.[101]

Whistler's reputation in London and Paris was rising and he gained positive reviews from critics and new commissions.[102] His book The Gentle Art of Making Enemies was published in 1890 to mixed success, but it afforded helpful publicity.[103]

Arrangement in Pink, Red and Purple, 1883–1884, "Cincinnati Art Museum, "Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 1890, he met "Charles Lang Freer, who became a valuable patron in America, and ultimately, his most important collector.[104] Around this time, in addition to portraiture, Whistler experimented with early "color photography and with "lithography, creating a series featuring London architecture and the human figure, mostly female nudes.[105] 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.[106]

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 and resided at n° 110 "Rue du Bac, Paris, with his studio at the top of 86 Rue Notre Dame des Champs in "Montparnasse.[107][108] He felt welcomed by "Monet, "Auguste Rodin, "Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and by "Stéphane Mallarmé, 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 while they sought medical treatment. He made drawings on lithographic transfer paper of the view of the "River Thames, from the hotel window or balcony, as he sat with her.[109] She died a few months later.[110]

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.[111] He died in London on July 17, 1903.[112] He is buried in Chiswick Old Cemetery in west London, adjoining "St Nicholas Church, Chiswick.[113]

Whistler was the subject of a 1908 biography by his friends, the husband and wife team of "Joseph Pennell and "Elizabeth Robins Pennell, printmaker and art critic respectively. The Pennells' vast collection of Whistler material was bequeathed to the "Library of Congress.[114] The artist's entire estate was left to his sister-in-law "Rosalind Birnie Philip. She spent the rest of her life defending his reputation and managing his art and effects, much of which eventually was donated to "Glasgow University.[115]

Personal relationships[edit]

Symphony in White no 2 (The Little White Girl), full version
Etching of Whistler's model, "Joanna Hiffernan (c. 1860)

Whistler had a distinctive appearance, short and slight, with piercing eyes and a curling mustache, often sporting a monocle and the flashy attire of a dandy.[116] 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.[117]

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."[118]

Whistler was well known for his biting wit, especially in exchanges with his friend and rival "Oscar Wilde. Both were figures in the "Café society of Paris, and they were often the "talk of the town". They frequently appeared as caricatures in "Punch, 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.[91] 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.[119]

In Paris Whistler was friends with members of the "Symbolist circle of artists, writers and poets that included "Stéphane Mallarmé [120] and "Marcel Schwob.[121] 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.

In addition to Henri Fantin-Latour, Alphonse Legros, and Courbet, Whistler was friendly with many other French artists. He illustrated the book Les Chauves-Souris with "Antonio de La Gandara. He also knew the "Impressionists, notably "Édouard Manet, "Monet, and "Edgar Degas. As a young artist, he maintained a close friendship with "Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a member of the "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His close friendships with Monet and poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who translated the Ten O'Clock Lecture into French, helped strengthen respect for Whistler by the French public.[122] Whistler was friendly with his fellow students at Gleyre's studio, including "Ignace Schott, whose son "Leon Dabo Whistler later would mentor.[123]

Whistler's lover and model for The White Girl, "Joanna Hiffernan, also posed for "Gustave Courbet. Historians speculate that Courbet's erotic painting of her as "L'Origine du monde 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.[119] He not only made several excellent portraits of her but she was also a helpful stand-in for other sitters.

In 1888, Whistler married "Beatrice Godwin, (who was called 'Beatrix' or 'Trixie' by Whistler). She was the widow of the architect "E. W. Godwin, who had designed Whistler's White House. Beatrix was the daughter of the sculptor "John Birnie Philip[124] and his wife Frances Black. Beatrix and her sisters "Rosalind Birnie Philip[125] and "Ethel Whibley 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).[126] 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 subdued by morphine, given for pain relief. Her death was a strong blow Whistler never quite overcame.[127] Whistler had several illegitimate children, of whom Charles Hanson is the best documented.[128]


Whistler by "William Merritt Chase, 1885.

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.[69] He was adept in many media, with over 500 paintings, as well as etchings, pastels, watercolors, drawings, and lithographs.[129] 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 over-labored technique, and the tonal harmony of the final result.[69] 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".[69]

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 "Walter Sickert and writer "Oscar Wilde. His "Tonalism had a profound effect on many American artists, including "John Singer Sargent, "William Merritt Chase and "Willis Seaver Adams (whom he befriended in "Venice). Another significant influence was upon "Arthur Frank Mathews, whom Whistler met in Paris in the late 1890s. Mathews took Whistler's Tonalism 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."[91]

During a trip to Venice 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.[89]

~ James Abbott McNeill Whistler ~
Honored on "Issue of 1940

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 operetta "Patience 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. He is buried at "St Nicholas Church, Chiswick.

Author Terry Mort uses the parallel to Whistler's commentary "Painting should be like breath on a glass" to that of fly fishing.


Whistler achieved worldwide recognition during his lifetime:

A statue of James McNeill Whistler by Nicholas Dimbleby was erected in 2005 at the north end of "Battersea Bridge on the River Thames in the United Kingdom.[131]

Auction records[edit]

On October 27, 2010, "Swann Galleries 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.["citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Merriam Webster's Biographical Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. 1995. 
  2. ^ Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1936. 
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale. 1998. 
  4. ^ "Almanac of Famous People". Biography in Context. Gale. 2011. Retrieved February 21, 2015. 
  5. ^ "International Dictionary of Art and Artists". Biography in Context. Gale. 1990. Retrieved February 21, 2015. 
  6. ^ Bridgers, Jeff (2013-06-20). "Whistler's Butterfly" (webpage). Retrieved 2014-04-29. 
  7. ^ "Image gallery of some of Whistler's well-known paintings and others by his contemporaries". Retrieved 2013-07-15. 
  8. ^ Lisa N. Peters, James McNeill Whistler, Smithmark, New York, 1996, pg. 4, "ISBN 0-7651-9961-0
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c Peters, pg. 11
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ Ronald Anderson and Anne Koval, James McNeill Whistler: Beyond the Myth, Carroll & Graf, New York, 1994, pg. 9, ISBN
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Primary sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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