Whistler - Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink - 1871-1874

Whistler - Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink - 1871-1874

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) was one of the most original America artists of the nineteenth century.  A leader of the Aesthetic Movement, Whistler championed the cult of beauty and art for art’s sake.  Whistler was a tonalist and he titled his paintings noctures, harmonies, and arrangements to suggest tone and the relation of painting and music.  Whistler explained that “Art should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it, and that is why I insist on calling my works ‘arrangements’ and ‘harmonies’.”  Whistler was strongly influenced by Japanese art, and he was also a master of etching.

After a stint at West Point, Whistler moved to Paris in 1855 to study at the atelier of Marc Charles Gabriel Gleyre.  As a student, he copied in the Louvre where he met and became friends with Henri Fantin-Latour. In Fantin-Latour’s Homage to Delacroix, Whistler is portrayed next to Baudelaire and Manet.  He was also friends with Degas.

Like Sargent, he used the sight-size method of portraiture which he taught to Walter Sickert. Sickert has this to say of the technique:  “Now, in painting a life-sized realistic study from nature, the practice of the greatest masters has been to put canvas and model side by side, to view them both from a certain distance, to take certain observations, and then, walking up to the canvas, to place these observations, from memory, on the canvas, and to repeat this operation until the picture is finished. In almost all the written descriptions of the art of painting, a painter is described as stepping back to view the effect of his work.  To quote no more than three instances more, the names of Whistler, Millais, and Raeburn, to all of whom there is evidence that my description of method applies, are enough to show that the method is not confined to any particular school but is made necessary by optical laws which are common to humanity.”

Whistler in his Paris Studio

Whistler in his Paris Studio