James Abbot McNeill Whistler

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Portrait of the dapper Whistler
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Details

Name:James Abbot McNeill Whistler

Dates:1834 - 1903

Profession:Art

Address: 96 Cheyne Walk, SW3

Dates at address:1866 - 1878

Biography

Massachusetts-born Whistler was son of railway engineer Major George Whistler, whose work led to the family living all over America, Russia and England. Educated at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, St Petersburg and the École Impériale et Spéciale de Dessin, Paris. He also dropped out of West Point Military Academy. Dandified and vain, he was also witty, though his jokes and comments could be caustic and hurtful. He had many acquaintances; his personality, however, makes it difficult to know whether they were friends or enemies. He married artist Beatrice Godwin, widow of William Godwin, in 1888.

Whistler began exhibiting in America and France but it was his arrival in England in 1859 that truly launched his career. Refused membership to the Royal Academy his paintings of Thames scenes became popular nevertheless and the Academy exhibited them regularly. He also published The Gentle Art of Making Enemies in 1890.

Living all over Chelsea from 1859 to his death, Whistler knew most of the borough’s intellectual set. Friends and eventual enemies included Wilde, Swinburne and Rossetti. He taught Walter Greaves, who was his rower when he painted his nocturnes, and was friends with Godwin, who built his house on Tite Street. Ruskin, however, was never a friend and his comparison of Whistler’s paintings to “throwing a pot of paint” ended in a libel case that bankrupted Whistler. Forced to leave for Venice, he returned in 1880. He died at his home at 74 Cheyne Walk.

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