JAMES ABBOTT MCNEILL WHISTLER1834-1903
J.A.M. Whistler was one of the most controversial artists of the late 19th Century, baffling the public and outraging critics by being an outspoken proponent of art for art’s sake, and by refusing the conventions of Victorian painting. Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, Whistler spent a period of his childhood in Russia, entered West Point after his return to the United States in 1851, but was expelled two years later. After a short career as a map etcher for the United States Geodetic Survey, Whistler moved to Paris, falling under the influence of Gustave Courbet. However, he soon rejected Courbet’s realist style for his now famous soft, poetic style. In 1859 he moved permanently to London, though he frequently returned to Paris.
Whistler was heavily influenced by Japanese art, using flattened planes and monochromatic colors, and had a “masterful ability [of suggesting] a whole scene by using only the merest indications of its elements”, demonstrated beautifully by his “Study of Poppies.” In 1877, Whistler’s controversial career came under close scrutiny when art critic John Ruskin accused him of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Whistler sued him for libel, and won, but was awarded only a farthing, forcing him to go bankrupt and sell his paintings at ridiculously low prices. A commission to do a series of etchings of Venice saved him financially in 1880. Even so, Whistler’s art did not receive any serious recognition until the 1890s. He died in London in 1903.