James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Portrait of James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Born: Lowell, Massachusetts - 11 July 1834
Died: London - 17 July 1903

The son of the great railway engineer, George Washington Whistler, James Abbot McNeill Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1834, although he would later claim St. Petersburg as his birthplace, saying "I do not choose to be born in Lowell".

He in fact came to St. Petersburg with his family at the age of eight, and left with his mother and siblings in 1847, when the threat of cholera forced them to move to London, where he would spend most of the rest of his life. However, it was in St. Petersburg that he began his study of painting, first with private tutors and then, from the age of 11, at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. In 1844 he was introduced to the famous Scottish painter Sir William Allen, who commented on the boy's "uncommon genius".

  • 'Sunset: Red and Gold' by James Abbot McNeill Whistler
    Sunset: Red and Gold by James Abbot McNeill Whistler
  • 'Nocturne: Blue and Gold' by James Abbot McNeill Whistler
    Nocturne: Blue and Gold by James Abbot McNeill Whistler

Whistler decided to become a painter at the age of 15, the year his father died in St. Petersburg and the family fortunes took a turn for the worse. His mother wanted him to become a church minister, but he ended up studying at his father's alma mater, West Point Military Academy. He was insubordinate and seemed entirely to lack his father's practical genius, which led to his dismissal. He suffered a similar fate when working as a cartographer and then in the etching division of the US Coastal Service.

In 1855, he made the decision to devote himself to his art and the bohemian life, and moved to Paris. During his career, Whistler experienced critical adoration and opprobrium, periods of great commercial success and intense poverty. He became almost as famous for his sharp wit and his high-profile public rows as for his paintings. Like his one-time friend Oscar Wilde, he was one of the foremost public cultural figures of the late 19th century. However, he remained dedicated to his principles of aestheticism and "art for art's sake", and the clean lines and rich tonalism of his paintings proved highly influential on generations of artists, particularly in America. Moreover, his Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (better known as Whistler's Mother) is one of the most instantly recognizable images in the whole history of Western painting.

Address: 34, Angliiskaya Naberezhnaya

Connected with: George Washington Whistler, Sir William Allen