Born July 10, 1834 in Lowell, Massachusetts, the son of George Washington Whistler, a draftsman and civil engineer. In 1842 the senior Whistler was employed by the Russian government to help build a railroad between St. Petersburg and Moscow. James Whistler thus spent seven years of his youth in Russia (1842-49). In 1851 he entered West Point Academy but was discharged in 1854, for deficiency in chemistry. He worked as a draftsman from 1854 to 1855 in the U. S. Coast Survey, Washington, D.C., where he also learned to etch. In 1855 he left the United States for Paris and, after five years in France, settled in London. He never returned to the United States. He enjoyed great success in his life, as a painter and printmaker, but also struggled for acceptance and endured times of financial hardship.
Whistler studied at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Russia and at West Point Academy, but probably received his earliest artistic training from his father. In 1856 he entered the studio of Marc-Gabriel Charles Gleyre in Paris and became acquainted with Henri Martin, Henri Oulevey, George du Maurier, E. G. Poynter and L. M. Lamont. In 1858 Whistler met Fantin-Latour at the Louvre. Fantin-Latour took him to the Cafe Molière, where he met Legros, Carolus-Duran and Astruc and to the Brasserie Andler, the meeting place of Courbet and his followers. Fantin, Whistler, and Legros formed their own society, the Société des Trois in the same year. Later, in 1865, Albert Moore replaced Legros as the third member of the Société.
Whistler submitted the painting, At the Piano, to the Salon in 1859. Rejected by the Salon, the painting was exhibited in Francois Bonvin's studio. This was also the first painting by Whistler exhibited in Britain, at the Royal Academy, in 1860. Among Whistler's principal patrons early in his career include F. R. Leyland and W. C. Alexander and among major works he produced at this time are portraits of family members of these two men.
In England, Whistler became acquainted with the pre-Raphaelite circle of artists. He began collecting Japanese art and curios in the early 1860s and also is known to have visited the Salon des Refusés in Paris when many of the Impressionist painters were exhibiting there. Whistler's many connections with contemporary artists and wide interests make him an artist difficult to pigeonhole.
Two events in Whistler's life perhaps shed some light on his character: he sued John Ruskin for libel in 1877 (the fees incurred during the case forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1879) and in 1890 he published a book "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies."
Whistler married Beatrix Godwin, widow of E. W. Godwin, in 1888. She preceded him in death in 1896. Whistler died in London on July 17, 1903.
One-man exhibitions: 1874 London, Flemish Gallery; 1904 Memorial exhibition, Boston; 1905 Memorial exhibition, London and Paris
Elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists, 1884; president, 1886-1888
First president of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers, 1898-1903
Officer of Legion of Honor, France
Member of Société Nationale des Artistes Françaises
Commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy
Chevalier of the Order of St. Michael of Bavaria
Honorary member of Royal Academies of Bavaria, Dresden, and of St. Luke in Rome
Sources: Groce, G. C. and D. H. Wallace, eds. "The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America 1564-1860." New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957; MacDonald, M. F. "James McNeill Whistler: Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours." New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995; McNamara, C. and J. Siewert, "Whistler: Prosaic Views, Poetic Vision." London: Thames and Hudson, 1994; Opitz, Glenn B., ed. "Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers," 2nd ed. Poughkeepsie: Apollo, 1986; Spencer, R. "Whistler: The Masterworks." London: Studio Editions, 1990.
A woman with curly hair and a scarf or bandeau around her hair sits sideways (facing left) on a couch, looking down. In her lap, seated at a right angle to the woman's legs, is a young child. Behind the couch is indication of drapery hanging.
Drawn on thin French transfer paper known as "papier végétal", this is one of a group of mother and child images that Whistler drew in 1891; it was not transfered to a stone for printing by Thomas Way until 1895.
On the stone, to l. of figures: Butterfly monogram Collector's mark: T.R.W. (in rectangle) Thomas Robert Way. Lugt 2456 Watermark: (Partial) Van Gelder Zonen
A self-taught painter, Milton Avery is an important late twentieth-century American colorist. Mark Rothko (1903–1970), a painter whose own work with intense color often glows with an almost mystical luminosity, has lauded Avery as a "a poet of sheer beauty." Avery favored the sophisticated use of decorative color in the works of Henri Matisse (1869–1954), and especially admired the pure colors and jarring complexities of the French artist’s figure painting. Like Matisse, Avery chose to eliminate representational detail in order to find a simplicity of form that would emphasize his original exploration of color. His use of familiar figures (often his family members or visitors to his studio) gave him the freedom to concentrate on creating powerful expressions of mood and atmosphere.—A. Dixon, 20th Century Gallery installation
A self-taught painter, Milton Avery is an important late twentieth-century American colorist. Mark Rothko (1903–1970), a painter whose own work with intense color often glows with an almost mystical luminosity, has lauded Avery as a "a poet of sheer beauty." Avery favored the sophisticated use of decorative color in the works of Henri Matisse (1869–1954), and especially admired the pure colors and jarring complexities of the French artist’s figure painting. Like Matisse, Avery chose to eliminate representational detail in order to find a simplicity of form that would emphasize his original exploration of color. His use of familiar figures (often his family members or visitors to his studio) gave him the freedom to concentrate on creating powerful expressions of mood and atmosphere.
In "Checker Players," strong colors and careless shapes are pushed forward and clutter the front of the picture plane. Avery’s depiction of a tranquil, even somber, mood is less about how the players looked than how the artist felt. As Matisse wrote in 1908, "Composition is the art of making a decorative arrangement of the elements from which the painter can choose to express his feelings."
(A. Dixon, 20th Century Gallery installation, June 1999)