Getting to Know James McNeill Whistler
For this Art Wednesday we’ll look at the work of the American painter James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). Whistler, who did most of his work in the UK, was at his heights during the rise of Impressionism.
Whistler, Arrangement in Gray- Portrait of the Painter, self portrait, 1872
Whistler’s Mother. Likely the most famous American painting outside of US. This one came through Nashville and I went. The old woman in a chair took my breath away. I’m not entirely sure why, but it did.
Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (Whistler’s Mother), 1871
Whistler believed in art for art’s sake—that art didn’t need to perform a sentimental or commercial purpose to have value. Art, in itself, has intrinsic worth to the world because of how the world and people are made.
Whistler, The Thames in Ice, 1860
Whistler attended West Point under superintendent Robert E. Lee. His father taught there, but Whistler’s grades were always subpar, as was his appearance, and he was eventually dismissed.
Whistler, Nocturne- Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge, 1872
After West Point, Whistler went into map making. The work bored him, but the creative part pushed him to focus on painting. In 1855 he moved to France and began to paint full time.
Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold- The Falling Rocket, 1874
In France, Whistler got to know Courbet and Manet at a time when the art world was changing. Impressionism was encroaching on the realism of the mid-1800’s. His art reflects the change.
Whistler, Nocturne in Gray and Gold, Westminster Bridge, 1874
Whistler moved to London, where he spent most of his career. He built his body of work on the conviction that the artist’s responsibility was to interpret what he saw. Check the Tate Britain in London to see some great Whistlers.