WHISTLER, James Abbot McNeill
(b. 1834, Lowell, d. 1903, London)
American painter, printmaker, and designer, active in England. Dismissed from West Point, Whistler joined the US navy, where as a cartographer he learned etching and decided on a career in art. He went to Paris in 1855 before settling in London in 1859, where he enjoyed an early success, not only for his art but also for his flamboyant life-style.
He developed from the Realism of Courbet and Manet to become one of the leading members of The Aesthetic Movement and an exponent of Japonisme. He adopted non-specific or musical titles for his works the emphasis of which was often mood or the manipulation of paint across the surface, rather than the actual subject depicted. He is best know for his work Portrait of the Artist's Mother (1871), and his subsequent portraits using simple tonal colours.
In 1877, his work Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket, caused a sensation for its blatant abstract qualities that shocked art critics. In his later life, he created an ambitious series of etchings. He acted as an important link between the avant-garde artistic worlds of Europe, Britain and the USA and has always been acknowledged as one of the masters of etching.