Whistler, James Abbott McNeill

Born:1834 – Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S.

Died:1903 – London, England, UK

Title of Work:

Whistler’s father was a civil engineer whose work took the family to Russia in 1843 to 1848 where the young Whistler was enrolled at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg. The family returned to America shortly after his father’s death and, in 1851, Whistler enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point where he studied art under Robert W. Weir. In 1855 he finally left America for Paris with the intention of carving a career as an artist. In Paris he studied at the École Impériale et Spéciale de Dessin and the studio of Charles Gleyre. Whilst in Paris he became friends with the painter Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) and it was through him that he met renowned French realist Gustave Courbet (1819-77). Following a tour of Europe in 1858 where he made his first set of etchings titled Twelve Etchings from Nature Whistler settled in London where his half-sister Deborah Haden lived with her husband the surgeon and etcher Francis Seymour Haden.His etchings were published in a series of sets, notably; Douze Eaux-Fortes d’après Nature (Twelve Etchings from Nature) published in 1858 and A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames (The Thames Set) published in 1871. Following the morally successful but financially crippling libel suit against John Ruskin Whistler was forced to accept a commission from the Fine Art Society to produce a set of etchings of Venice titled Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings (First Venice Set) in 1880. This was followed by A Set of Twenty-Six Etchings (Second Venice Set) in 1890. In 1886, the Society of British Artists in London elected Whistler as President only to force him to resign, due to his aggressive plans to reform the society, shortly after. He was elected the first President of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in 1896. His publications include The Ten O’Clock Lecture (delivered as a lecture in 1885 and published in 1888), The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (1890).

The above is an abridged biography from Margaret F. MacDonald, Grischka Petri, Meg Hausberg, and Joanna Meacock, James McNeill Whistler: The Etchings, a catalogue raisonné, University of Glasgow, 2012, on-line website at http://etchings.arts.gla.ac.uk


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