James Abbott McNeill Whistler – American 1834-1903

James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American painter and etcher, who assimilated Japanese art styles, made technical innovations, and championed modern art. Many regard him as preeminent among etchers.

Three of Whistler's best-known portraits, Arrangement in Black and Grey No. 1: The Artist's Mother (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1: Thomas Carlyle (1872-1874, City Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow), and Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander (Tate Gallery, London) were painted around 1872. In 1877 he exhibited a number of landscapes done in the Japanese manner; these paintings, which he called nocturnes, outraged conservative art opinion, which did not understand his avoidance of narrative detail, his layers of atmospheric color, and his belief in art for art's sake. The English art critic John Ruskin wrote a caustically critical article, and Whistler, charging slander, sued Ruskin for damages. He won the case, one of the most celebrated of its kind, but the expense of the trial forced him into bankruptcy. Selling the contents of his studio, Whistler left England, worked intensively from 1879 to 1880 in Venice, then returned to England and resumed his attack on the academic art tradition.

In later years Whistler devoted himself increasingly to etching, drypoint, lithography, and interior decoration. The Thames series (1860), the First Venice series (1880), and the Second Venice series (1881) heightened his standing as an etcher and won him success when they were exhibited in London in 1881 and 1883. The Peacock Room, which he painted for a private London residence (begun 1876 and moved in 1919 to the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), is the most noteworthy example of his interior decoration. Toward the end of his life, when he lived in Paris, Whistler came to be regarded as a major artist. He died in London on July 17, 1903.


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Whistler and the World: The Lunder Collection of James McNeill Whistler by Magdalen Abe (Author), Maria Bowe (Author), Justin McCann (Editor), Sharon Corwin (Foreword) - Hardcover: 320 pages; Publisher: Colby College Museum of Art (October 27, 2015)

In his Ten O'Clock Lecture in 1885, American James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) presented himself as an artist set apart from the public, bearing no relation to the historical moment in which he lived. However, the myth of artistic independence that Whistler developed was but one part of a complex and highly significant relationship he had with the world around him. As a painter, printmaker, designer, traveler and performer, Whistler engaged with a variety of places, people and ideas that stretched from the United States to London, Venice and Japan.

Whistler and His Mother: An Unexpected Relationship by Sarah Walden – Hardcover: 304 pages Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (September 2003)

Walden restored Whistler's painting Arrangement in Grey and Black, and she's got some issues with the artist. Not with his life, nor with the women who managed it, including his mother, nor with his grand philosophizing about art, which Walden dismisses as "confused and confusing." No, Walden is chagrined that in his greatest painting, Whistler botched the technique. He ground the grains in the black pigments too finely and applied the paint too thinly. Result: Whistler's aged mother is aging far faster than normal, and the painting will never be restored to its original condition. Walden's lament, however, is more commiserative than pejorative, for in addition to recounting the painting's physical problems, she tells us how Whistler came to paint it — he conceived it fairly spontaneously, using his mom as a substitute when a model failed to show up. A fascinating, easily read account of an icon. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Whistler, Women, and Fashion by Margaret MacDonald, Susan Galassi, Aileen Ribeiro, Patricia de Montfort – Hardcover: 256 pages Publisher: Yale University Press (May 11, 2003)

Costume and fashion were a lifelong obsession for James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). His exquisite depictions of women and the details of their clothing contributed to his career as one of the most accomplished and successful—if controversial—artists of the nineteenth century. This lavishly illustrated book focuses on fashion in Whistler’s art as a key to understanding his life and work and as a new means of exploring his relationship with women and his portraits of them. The book offers new insights into some of Whistler’s most beloved masterpieces in the context of art and fashion in the Victorian period.

Illustrated with paintings, pastels, prints, and drawings by Whistler, the book also presents photographs of his sitters, contemporary costumes, works by other artists of the period, and artifacts from Whistler’s studio. These illustrations, with new material drawn from the Centre for Whistler Studies, illuminate the interaction between the artist and the women he portrayed during his fifty years in Paris and London—mistresses, family members, artists, actresses, aristocrats, and many others.

James MacNeill Whistler: Uneasy Pieces by David Park Curry – Hardcover: 352 pages Publisher: Quantuck Lane Press (November 15, 2004)

James McNeill Whistler was one of the most misinterpreted creative talents of his age. While devoted to the expression of the beautiful, he was among the first to recognize that popularized arts and commercialized leisure were complex, interrelated phenomena that made urban life "modern." Whistler's showmanship had far greater impact than countless imitations of his The White Girl and Portrait of the Painter's Mother might suggest. His purposeful use of past art; his intermingling of private and public spaces; his ability to tailor his work to the realities of the Victorian marketplace; his understanding and exploitation of shifting economic, class, and gender roles; and his clever use of fashion and decoration all lead us to a richer understanding of "modernism" and a broader assessment of his contribution to it.

Whistler's emphatically aesthetic pictures, made the more inscrutable by purposefully confusing titles, remain uneasy pieces to the present time. Probing some of these tensions, Dr. Curry explores the intersection of Whistler's determined aestheticism with the commercial art world. Key examples of Whistler's paintings, drawings, and prints are set against related images from both fine art and popular culture drawn from the past two hundred years. Approximately 250 color and monotone illustrations.

After Whistler: The Artist and His Influence on American Painting by Linda Merrill, Marc Simpson, John Siewert, Lee Glazer, Sylvia Yount, Robyn Asleson, Lacey Taylor Jordan – Hardcover: 272 pages Publisher: Yale University Press (November 1, 2003)

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) left the United States for Europe at the age of twenty-one, never to return, and his style developed independently of American art currents. Nonetheless, he left an indelible mark on the art of his native land, for his modernist aesthetic influenced the work of a generation of American painters. This beautifully illustrated book—published to commemorate the centenary of the artist's death—addresses Whistler's extraordinary legacy and establishes his pivotal place in the history of American art. After Whistler juxtaposes fourteen of the artist's most important works with an array of pictures by thirty-eight other American painters—including Henry Ossawa Tanner, William Merritt Chase, and John Singer Sargent—to demonstrate how Whistler's American contemporaries were affected by his techniques, color palette, compositions, and subject matter. The introduction to the book provides an overview of Whistler's association with American artists and the reception of his work in the United States. The essays that follow discuss Whistler's Venetian sojourn and its effect on the American artists who flocked to that city; his relationship with Philadelphia's art community; the Whistler Memorial Exhibition held in Boston in 1904; and much more. This insightful volume is essential reading for anyone interested in American art and Whistler's role in its history.

Whistler, Sargent, and Steer: Impressionists in London from Tate Collections by Tate Britain (Gallery), David Fraser Jenkins, Avis Berman, Tenn.) Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Arriving at their mature styles independently of one another, the renowned American expatriate painters James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent and the British artist Philip Wilson Steer are often credited with bringing modern art to London near the end of the 19th century. Inspired by the lively brushwork of painters from Velázquez to Monet, each of these artists developed a distinctive approach to Impressionism, utilizing spontaneously applied strokes of paint and closely modulated colors to caputre the effects of light as it played across the fingure and landscape.

This selection of masterworks by the three artists reveals the stylistic links that give evidence of their shared aesthetic lineage. Essays by Tate curator David Fraser Jenkins and art historian Avis Berman provide insight into their lives and works within the cultural milieu of fin-de-siècle London, including the experiences of the young and somewhat eccentric aesthete W. Graham Robertson.

Romantics and Realists: Whistler Color, NTSC
DVD Release Date: September 26, 2006
Run Time: 50 minutes


Romantics and Realists Boxed Set / Goya, Whistler, Courbet, Friedrich, Rossetti, Delacroix Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, Dolby, NTSC; Number of discs: 6; DVD Release Date: September 26, 2006

The Great Artists chronicles the lives, times and works of the men whose genius has captivated the art world for generations. Informative and entertaining, the series highlights important events in each artist's life, explores their stylistic trademarks, and provides detailed explanations of their techniques.

Whistler: The Gentle Art of Making Enemies Color, NTSC
VHS Release Date: September 21, 2001
Run Time: 50 minutes

James McNeill Whistler was one of the most contentious artists of the 19th century, but was also one of the most misunderstood. Painter, draughtsman, etcher, watercolorist and interior designer, he was renowned as much for his wit, style and elegance as he was for his work. The story of Whistler's life unfolds in a mixture of humor and pathos, told through images found in his paintings to the music of Debussy, who found inspiration from his work.

James McNeil Whistler by Lisa N. Peters – Hardcover: 80 pages Publisher: Todtri Productions, Ltd. (September 1, 1998)


A Fragile Modernism: Whistler and His Impressionist Followers 8 by Anna Gruetzner Robins - Hardcover: 256 pages; Publisher: Yale University Press (March 4, 2008)

Whistler embarked on a new project in the 1880s, working on a small scale in oil, pastel and watercolor to depict new London subjects and painting portraits of new urban types. This book, the first critical study of Whistler and his Impressionist followers, offers an in-depth analysis of Whistler's art as well as new insights into his modernist project.

The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler (2 vols.) Andrew Maclaren Young, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer, and Hamlish Miles Hardcover: 567 pages Publisher: Paul Mellon Center BA (September 10, 1980)

These two volumes form a work of reference of the highest importance to students of nineteenth-century art in Europe and America.

Very collectible two-volume set!

Mr. Whistler's Gallery: Pictures at an 1884 Exhibition by Kenneth John Myers – Paperback: 112 pages Publisher: Scala Publishers (December 1, 2003)

Showcasing rarely exhibited oils, watercolors, and pastels, Mr. Whistler's Gallery explores an influential exhibition the artist organized at the Dowdeswells' gallery in London in May 1884. Not only did Whistler select the works to be included and decide where they were hung, he also designed the color scheme, furnishings, and picture frames. He titled his installation an Arrangement in Flesh Colour & Grey. Whistler's "arrangement" attracted a great deal of press coverage that spurred attendance and transformed his art exhibition into a widely discussed cultural "event."

Mr. Whistler's Gallery will appeal to scholars, design enthusiasts, and all those interested in nineteenth century British and American art.

Whistler and His Circle in Venice by Eric Denker – Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Merrell Holberton (March 1, 2003)

Whistler and His Circle in Venice is a landmark publication, offering a fresh examination of one of the most influential turn-of-the-century artists on the 100th anniversary of his death in 1903.

This stunning new survey focuses on a little-documented period of Whistler's career: his stay in Venice from 1879 to 1880. Arriving in the footsteps of such renowned artists as Canaletto and Turner, whose enthusiasm for representing the city was shared by so many Grand Tourists, Whistler was determined to do more than simply capture its popular views. He wanted to penetrate further—to achieve a greater understanding of the nature of Venice itself.

Whistler and His Circle in Venice explores Whistler's struggle to find a "Venice of the Venetians," through a sumptuous collection of his pastels, etchings, watercolors, and oil paintings. It goes on to examine in detail the significance of Whistler's etchings in terms of his technical and compositional innovations.

As this book reveals, Whistler's new approach to Venice was profoundly significant, challenging and redefining the ways in which others viewed the city. It also traces the remarkable breadth of his influence, on numerous artists in the US and Europe, including Walter Sickert, and most notably on American artist John Singer Sargent, whose lifelong association with Whistler—begun during this stay in Venice—receives a new and in-depth appraisal. Whistler's impact on pictorial photography—and especially on one of the great American masters, Alfred Stieglitz—is explored here for the first time.

Whistler and His Circle in Venice offers new insight into the career of one of the period's most important figures. Packed with Whistler's beautiful evocations of one of the best-loved cities in the world, this book will appeal as much to lovers of Venice as to those fascinated by Whistler himself.

Tate British Artists: James McNeill Whistler (Tate British Artists) by Robin Spencer – Paperback: 80 pages Publisher: Tate (March 16, 2004)

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), the American-born artist who spent much of his working life in London, played a crucial role in the development of 20th-century modernism. His art was profoundly influenced by the written word, especially the writings of Baudelaire, Swinburne, Mallarmé, and Edgar Allan Poe. This book examines literary and other aspects of Whistler's modernity, discusses his relationship with English and French painting, and sheds new light on his famous libel trial with art critic John Ruskin.

James McNeill Whistler: Beyond the Myth by Ronald Anderson, Anne Koval – Paperback: 544 pages Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers (August 1, 2002)

From Library Journal: Of the making of Whistler books there is no end, or so it seems this year. No fewer than six new Whistler titles have appeared by design or coincidentally with major Whistler shows at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) and elsewhere. Here, independent Whistler scholars Anderson and Koval systematically debunk the myths surrounding Whistler's life and work (e.g., the importance of Whistler's American roots), which were spawned by Joseph and Elizabeth Robbin Pennell's sympathetic 1908 biography, The Life of James McNeill Whistler (A.M.S. Pr.). That task aside, they present a well-written, definitive account of the artist, who nonetheless remains an enigma. The book begs for a careful read with frequent sallies forth to the notes and incredibly detailed index, but readers will be rewarded with a thorough understanding of Whistler's noteworthy contributions to the fine and allied arts of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries (his mother's all-too-famous portrait notwithstanding). Strongly recommended for all collections. —P. Steven Thomas, Illinois State Univ., Normal © 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Whistler's Venice (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in Britis)by Alastair Grieve Hardcover: 216 pages Publisher: Paul Mellon Center BA (November 10, 2000)

Planning only a brief stay in Venice in 1879, Whistler found himself enchanted by the city's beauty and remained for more than a year. This lovely book is the first to follow Whistler's progress throughout Venice as he produced fifty etchings, a few oils, and a remarkable group of one hundred pastels. Alongside each of his evocative portraits of the city are photographs of the actual site. Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

James McNeill Whistler: Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours: A Catalogue Raisonne (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in Britis) by Margaret MacDonald – Hardcover: 684 pages Publisher: Paul Mellon Center BA (June 28, 1995)

Painter, etcher, draughtsman, lithographer, watercolourist, and author of critical essays and aphorisms, James McNeill Whistler had a tremendous influence on the art and aesthetics of his era. Born in Massachusetts in 1834, he settled in London when he was twenty-five years old and for the next four decades produced hundreds of highly acclaimed (and sometimes highly criticised) works. His prodigious output and proficiency, along with his eccentricities, polemics, and arguments with critics, won him wide recognition. This catalogue raisonne of Whistler's drawings, pastels and watercolours makes available many of his works that have never before been exhibited or published and vividly demonstrates the wide range of his art. His drawings reveal the everyday working out of his ideas and note the world as it passed by Whistler with vigour and humour. The pastels include sensitive portraits, vigorous studies of models in the studio, and detailed views of Venetian palaces. The watercolours, perhaps his finest works, catch the subtle colours of northern skies and ever-changing seascapes.

Whistler's Mother: An American Icon by Margaret F. MacDonald (Editor) – Paperback: 160 pages Publisher: Lund Humphries Publishers (November 1, 2003)


Palaces in the Night: Whistler in Venice by Margaret F. MacDonald - Hardcover: 160 pages; Publisher: University of California Press; 1st edition (June 4, 2001)

In September 1879, James McNeill Whistler boarded the Venice-bound night train in Paris. He was forty-five years old and bankrupt. What was to be a three-month stay in the Italian city—long enough to complete a set of twelve etchings—stretched to fourteen months. When Whistler returned to London, he brought back over fifty magnificent etchings and a hundred pastels, far in excess of the original commission. In Palaces in the Night, Margaret F. MacDonald looks at this key period in Whistler's career, examining his unique vision of Venice and his development of the medium of etching. She shows how he reestablished himself in the art world of London and Paris, turning disaster and disgrace into profit and prestige.


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