James Whistler

James McNeill Whistler


Whistler was born in the United States and left for Europe in 1855, without ever returning to the United States. He first left for Paris, but after some time moved to London, where he would continue to live until his death.

He is perhaps best known for his almost entirely black-and-white painting of his mother, entitled Arrangement in Gray and Black, No. 1. 1 but usually called Whistler’s Mother. (The work is prominent in Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Bean’ film from 1997).

The strongly atmospheric series ‘Nocturnes’ show Japanese influence. Due to his sparse use of color (often with shades of one color), the work is almost abstract, which makes it a precursor to abstract art. The color-analytical method of the Impressionists did not lie with him. His attention to the aesthetic effect of the color is based more on the 17th-century Dutch tradition, which he greatly appreciated.

His painting ‘The White Girl’ from 1862 caused a stir during an exhibition in London and at the ‘Salon des Refusés’ in Paris. The work is a typical example of his theory that art should primarily focus on beauty in color and design (L’art pour l’art) and not on the exact representation of people and things, as recommended by the critic John Ruskin. In 1878, Whistler Ruskin filed a lawsuit for defamation after Ruskin called him a conceited brush, because of his work Nocturne in black and gold. He received minimal compensation, but the case cost him a capital. After this he left for Venice for a few years, where he mainly made etchings. He found Amsterdam even more beautiful. To the art critic Jan Veth he said: “You Dutch painters do not know what you are doing by not making anything of your living Amsterdam that I think is more beautiful than Venice.” [1] Also in Amsterdam he sailed through canals and canals and painted the houses, preferably the tenements, and preferably at the rear. He dealt with Willem Witsen and George Breitner, with whom he exercised great influence.

Whistler was friends with several French artists, including Édouard Manet and Antonio de La Gandara. He was also a prominent figure in the aesthetic movement, together with his friend Oscar Wilde. But he also made many enemies in his life. He cultivated these hostilities by, among other things, conducting many processes and writing a book about it: The gentle art of making enemies.

Kind regards Pierre

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