James Abbott McNeill Whistler

1834 - 1903

Artist. Born in Lowell (Massachusetts, USA), Whistler was brought up in Russia (1843-8), where he studied art in St. Petersburg, before spending time in London (England). His mother was a MacNeill, descended from a chief of the clan and a Jacobite, who had emigrated from Skye to North Carolina in 1746. After his father's death in 1849 the family returned to America and Whistler joined the US Military Academy at West Point, but was expelled in 1854. He briefly joined the Coast and Geodetic Survey who training him in etching. In 1855, he travelled to Europe once more to study art and was never to return to the USA. He attended classes in Paris and settled in London, but travelled widely in England and Continental Europe. Although Whistler visited Scotland only once, in 1888 he married Beatrice, daughter of Scottish sculptor John Birnie Philip.

A prolific painter, Whistler's work includes At the Piano, Wapping (1861), his well-known Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (1871) which inspired Thomas Carlyle to pose for Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle. Following lobbying by E.A. Walton (1860 - 1922), one of the 'Glasgow Boys' who greatly admired Whistler, this was the first of his paintings to enter a public collection when Glasgow Corporation bought it in 1891. His work was exhibited widely in Europe and America.

On the suggestion of Sir James Guthrie (1859 - 1930), another 'Glasgow Boy' and President of the Royal Scottish Academy, the University of Glasgow awarded Whistler an honorary degree. Whistler died in London. His family gave more than 1000 of his works, including oil paintings, watercolours, lithographs and etchings, to the University, which are now displayed in the Hunterian Gallery. The University has subsequently augmented this collection and created a Centre for Whistler Studies. The Freer Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.) also has substantial holdings of his work.

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