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Artists James Abbott McNeill Whistler
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James Abbott McNeill Whistler

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Aesthetic Art, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism

Born: July 11, 1834 - Lowell, Massachusetts

Died: July 17, 1903 - London, England

James Abbott McNeill Whistler Timeline

Quotes

"An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision."
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
"An artist's career always begins tomorrow."
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
"A picture is finished when all trace of the means used to bring about the end has disappeared."
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
"Nature contains the elements, in color and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. But the artist is born to pick and choose...that the result may be beautiful - as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he brings forth from chaos glorious harmony..."
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
"Art should be independent of all clap-trap--should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it; and that is why I insist on calling my works 'arrangements' and 'harmonies.'"
James Abbott McNeill Whistler

"To say to the painter that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano."

James Abbott McNeill Whistler Signature

Synopsis

One of the most significant figures in American art and a forerunner of the Post-Impressionist movement, James Abbott McNeill Whistler is celebrated for his innovative painting style and eccentric personality. He was bold and self-assured, and quickly developed a reputation for his verbal and legal retaliations against art critics, dealers, and artists who insulted his work. His paintings, etchings, and pastels epitomize the modern penchant for creating "art for art's sake," an axiom celebrated by Whistler and others in the Aesthetic movement. They also represent one of the earliest shifts from traditional representational art to abstraction that is at the heart of much of modern art.

Key Ideas

Whistler abandoned Courbet's realism and developed his own signature style in which, much like Édouard Manet at the time, he began exploring the possibilities and limitations of paint. By limiting his color palette and tonal contrast while skewing perspective, Whistler showcased a new compositional approach that emphasized the flat, abstract quality of the painting.
Whistler titled (or re-titled) his works using terms such as "symphony," "arrangement," and "nocturne" to suggest a correlation between musical notes and variations in color tone. These more abstract titles served to focus the viewer's attention on the artist's manipulation of paint, rather than the actual subject matter depicted.
Whistler was a devoted advocate of the Aesthetic movement in his promotion of the "art for art's sake" mentality through such writings as The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (1892), and he also helped cultivate new concepts of beauty by using unconventional models reminiscent of Pre-Raphaelite figures and, most notably, by incorporating the Japanese aesthetic into his imaginative compositions.
Japanese art deeply fascinated many early modern artists living in Paris. But because Whistler was among the first American artists working in England to incorporate delicate oriental fabric patterns and props into his work, he is credited with spearheading what has been called the Anglo-Japanese style in fine art. Works such The Peacock Room were integral to introducing the Japanese aesthetic to England and America.
Just as Courbet's Pavilion of Realism questioned the authority of the French Salon, Whistler's libel suit against John Ruskin as well as other defensive measures against art critics who did not share his vision inspired modern artists, such as the Impressionists, to look beyond traditional art institutions when seeking exhibition space or support for their work.

Biography

James Abbott McNeill Whistler Photo

Childhood and Education

James Abbott McNeill Whistler was the oldest son of engineer George Washington Whistler and his devoutly Episcopalian second wife Anna McNeill. As a child Whistler was temperamental and prone to mood swings. His parents quickly discovered that drawing soothed him and so they encouraged his artistic inclinations. When in 1842 Whistler's father was recruited by Tsar Nicholas I to design a railroad, James moved with his father, mother, and younger brother William (later a surgeon for the Confederate army) to St. Petersburg in Russia. There, the precocious youth insisted on showing his drawings to Sir William Allan, a Scottish painter hired by the Tsar to create a portrait of Peter the Great. Allan encouraged the youth to cultivate his talents and in 1845, at age 11, Whistler was enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. This, Whistler's first formal art instruction, ended just four years later when his father died from cholera and the family returned to the United States, settling in Pomfret, Connecticut.

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James Abbott McNeill Whistler Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Interactive chart with James Abbott McNeill Whistler's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Gustave CourbetGustave Courbet
Édouard ManetÉdouard Manet
Diego VelazquezDiego Velazquez

Personal Contacts

Charles BaudelaireCharles Baudelaire
Theophile GautierTheophile Gautier

Movements

Aesthetic ArtAesthetic Art
ImpressionismImpressionism
The Pre-RaphaelitesThe Pre-Raphaelites
Art NouveauArt Nouveau
RealismRealism

Influences on Artist
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Years Worked: 1854 - 1903
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Robert BlumRobert Blum
Frank DuveneckFrank Duveneck

Personal Contacts

Stéphane MallarméStéphane Mallarmé
John RuskinJohn Ruskin

Movements

Aesthetic ArtAesthetic Art
Art NouveauArt Nouveau
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
RealismRealism

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sandy McCain

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sandy McCain
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