James Whistler Music of Color in the Artist’s Biography


James Whistler (born July 11, 1834 died July 17, 1903) is a famous American artist of the 19th century, a brilliant tonalist. Whistler’s work is not tied to any particular school of painting, he preferred to go his own way and stood at the origins of new trends in art impressionism and symbolism. James Whistler’s paintings surprise with almost watercolor transparency. The artist’s biography reflects his incessant desire for self-renewal.

The White Symphony Three Girls
The White Symphony Three Girls

Biography of James Whistler

James Whistler was born on July 11, 1834 in America. However, he himself claimed that he was born (as a painter and personality) in Russia, where the Jimmy family moved in 1842 at the invitation of Emperor Nicholas I.

The artist Alexander Osipovich Koritsky taught the child to draw, took him to museums and introduced him to urban architecture. It was childhood memories of ghostly gray Petersburg that later served as a source of inspiration for the etchings that brought James the reputation of a great engraver. Karl Pavlovich Bryullov visited the Whistler house. Fascinating disputes about art and an incredible concentration of beauty around them predetermined the fate of the boy. At the age of 11, he was admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts, and immediately to the second year.

Arranged in Gray and Black Portrait of the Artist's Mother. 1871
Arranged in Gray and Black Portrait of the Artist’s Mother. 1871

Alas, the death of his father in 1849 forced the family to return to the United States. At the request of his mother, the young man entered the West Point Military Academy. The young man was treated condescendingly there, so he had to make a lot of efforts to expel. In his chemistry exam, James Whistler stated that silicon is a gas, and that was the last straw. Later, the painter said that if silicon turned out to be a gas, then someday it would have risen to the rank of general.

At the Piano
At the Piano

In the fall of 1855, Whistler went to Paris.

There he comprehends the art of painting under the guidance of Charles Gleyre (Charles Gleyre), often visits the Louvre, moves in bohemian circles. The works of Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Velázquez (Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez) and ancient Greek sculptures delight him, and his fascination with Japanese culture at that time acquires the features of mania.

James Whistler is highly regarded by his colleagues. His painting “At the Piano” is enthusiastically received by Gustave Courbet himself (Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet). The painter is friends with Henri Fantin-Latour, Alphonse Legros, Édouard Manet.

Brown and Silver Old Battersea Bridge
Brown and Silver Old Battersea Bridge

In 1857, the artist visited England and, returning to Paris, worked on a series of etchings “Thames”. At the end of 1862, Whistler moved to London with his beloved Joanna Hiffernan. This seems to have been a mistake.

Once Edgar Degas called James the strangest man in the French capital, adding: “It’s good that you are a genius.” A dude, by modern standards a hipster, Whistler shocked the prim Victorian audience with a poisonous yellow umbrella, purple socks and pink scarves. The British disliked him. The negative attitude was carried over to the works of the master, critics did not spare fierce epithets for them.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler - Harmony in Green and Rose The Music Room
James Abbott McNeill Whistler – Harmony in Green and Rose The Music Room.

In 1863, the painter exhibited at the Salon of the Outcast.

The main object of attacks was Manet’s provocative “Breakfast on the Grass”, but our hero also got it for the picture “Symphony in White No. 1. Girl in White”.

In 1866, James Whistler went to Chile, where he painted seascapes in greenish-blue tones, flooded with a wavering moonlight, which he later called “nocturnes.” The artist used heavily diluted, almost transparent paints. From the beginning of the 1870s, the master moved away from realism, especially since the realist painter Courbet “stole” Whistler’s beloved muse, Joanna Hiffernan.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler - Symphony in White No 3
James Abbott McNeill Whistler – Symphony in White No 3

The first solo exhibition in England in 1874 was not very successful. Pastels sold well, and the artist said: “They are not very good, since they are on sale!” Since the 1880s, James Whistler himself has been organizing exhibitions. In 1903, ill, he was preparing a large-scale retrospective display of his work. Death, which occurred on July 17, 1903, prevented the implementation of this plan.

The most famous paintings by James Whistler

James Whistler gave his favorite works “color-musical” names, and used a butterfly monogram as a signature. In 1880, he provided a butterfly with a sting. Above the plot and similarity, the artist always put mood, atmosphere, trying to convey them with the help of color.

Symphony in gray and green. Ocean.
Symphony in gray and green. Ocean.
Among the best paintings by James Whistler:
  1. At the Piano (1859) the plot combines the themes of motherhood and home concerts. The work is done in a restrained color scheme, the composition is built according to the classical standard.
  2. “Arrangement in Gray and Black, No. 1. Portrait of a Mother” (1871) the harmonies of tones perfectly match the rhythms of the lines. A simple and austere portrait so accurately embodied the image of a true American woman that in the United States they even released a stamp with the picture.
  3. “Nocturne in blue and gold. Old Bridge at Battersea “(1872-1875) a wooden bridge is shown higher than in reality. The old Chelsea Church is visible in the background.
  4. “Nocturne in black and gold. Falling Rocket “(1875) the scattering fireworks against the background of the night sky fascinate the eye. This piece became a symbol of the aesthetic movement due to the trial between James Whistler and art critic John Ruskin, who accused the author of disrespect for the audience.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler - Whistler Harmony in Flesh Color and Red
James Abbott McNeill Whistler – Whistler Harmony in Flesh Color and Red

Whistler’s talent also manifested itself in the sphere of decorative painting: his “Peacock Room” is a true masterpiece. During the work, the designer gave free rein to his imagination and ignored the wishes of the customer, which led to a major quarrel.

However, his contemporaries did not like literally everything about James the habit of working not in the open air, but in the studio, and the adherence to Asian motives, and even the titles of works referring to music that the author considered charming and poetic. In the end, Whistler achieved recognition. Since the 1890s, the artist’s paintings have been bought up by the best museums in the world, and the exhibition in the Gupil gallery held in 1892 became a real triumph.

Whistler Note in Red = The Siesta
The Siesta
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