James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American Impressionist painter who pursued Aestheticism (art for art's sake), a theory that beauty should be the sole goal of artistic pursuits.
Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on July 11, 1834, to a railroad engineer of the time and a mother who was an instructor at the United States Military Academy. In 1849, Whistler's father died in Russia, and his mother moved the family back to Stonington, USA. In 1851, Whistler complied with his mother's request that he follow in his father's footsteps and enrolled in the prestigious U.S. military academy --West Point. However, Whistler did not do well in his studies, especially in physics and chemistry, and was finally expelled from the school. At that time, Whistler was already 21 years old, and after repeatedly struggling with his thoughts, he finally decided to devote himself to his greatest passion, painting. In 1855, his family sponsored a $350-a-year trip to Paris, and he never returned to the United States. In the summer of 1858, he traveled around France and made a group of copperplate prints, The French Set, which was very popular at the time and made him famous. Later, together with Henri Fantin-Latour, he joined the circle of Gustave Courbet and began to associate with Impressionists such as Monet. In 1859, his graduation work At the Piano was rejected by the Salon, and he left France in anger and went to London. Since then, his paintings have been combined with musical titles. For example, Whistler's Mother was called Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, The White Girl was subtitled Symphony in White. In doing so, Whistler aimed to emphasize the association between color and music. The painting No. 1, Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain also has the title Symphony in White and Red. At that time, Whistler was deeply interested in the decorative approach of Japanese Ukiyo-e and screen painting. In this painting, the model is draped in an unconventional "kimono" and holds a fan, intended to pursue the beauty of Japanese painting. The carpet and screen are also full of Chinese motifs, and there is an oriental vase, which points out the theme of "the princess of the porcelain-producing country.
Whistler settled in England in the late 1850s and became a leading figure in the 19th-century British aesthetic movement. At the height of his career in the 1870s, Whistler was concerned with the presentation of his artwork. He designed the frames for his paintings and sometimes even arranged his own exhibitions. His desire to shape an all-encompassing overall aesthetic was finally realized when he designed the dining room décor for the London home of Frederick Richards Leyland, one of the largest British shipowners and his principal patron. The dining room, now known as the Peacock Room, enhanced Whistler's reputation as an aestheticist painter, showing that his pursuit of beauty went far beyond the frame, making him one of the most avant-garde painters in the history of 19th-century art.
Art Style - The Great Loner
During the 19th century, Whistler was in close contact with all kinds of modern art but never blended into any of them. He is said to be one of the truly great loners in art history because none of the general vocabularies of 19th-century avant-garde art applies fully to him.
In his early years, he imitated Realism, but he eventually parted ways with Courbet. He was most concerned not with the subject matter but the way it was translated into color and shape. He participated in the new movement of the Impressionists, but again he was very different from them, concerned not with light and color effects but with the composition of elegant patterns. He eventually broke with his best friend Henri Fantin-Latour after refusing an invitation to exhibit with the Impressionists. He was hailed by some as the "flag-bearer of Aestheticism" but broke with Wilde, the representative of Aestheticism, after a constant exchange of words.
As a sojourner, Whistler was not influenced by the American art trend for morality's sake. On the contrary, he pursued Aestheticism, and in his later years, he pursued Oriental interests, often painting young girls in Japanese kimonos with a few pieces of Chinese porcelain.
A retrospective of his works in 1892 made him recognized by the American public as an American painter who had lived in England by chance. He was made an officer of the Légion d'honneur and became the first president of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers.
He died in London on July 1, 1903, the sixth day after his 69th birthday, bidding farewell to the new century that had just dawned.