the power of the whistler

James McNeill Whistler (1843-1903)

James McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Gray: Portrait of the Painter, c.1872, oil on canvas, Detroit Institute of Arts. Source

Realist painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in Massachusetts, but he primarily worked in London and Paris throughout his career. He was one of the key artists associated with the development of Tonalism, a style of landscape painting that involved blending hues to create a powerful, intense atmosphere. The titles of Whistler’s works were inspired by musical language; words such as ‘symphony’, ‘arrangement’, ‘harmony’ and ‘nocturne’ are frequently used to introduce compositions.

Though his most famous piece is Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother, Whistler should probably be more known for suing the art critic John Ruskin over criticism made towards his Nocturne in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket, a highly controversial painting at the time of its execution. Though the artist triumphed at court, the trial left Whistler bankrupt, and he never really recovered.