The Rag Gatherers Original James McNeill Whistler Etching 1858 The Rag Gatherers
Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Title: The Rag Gatherers Original James McNeill Whistler Etching 1858 The Rag Gatherers
Reference: Kennedy 23
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James McNeill Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1834. Whistler spent much of his life abroad. His early years were spent in Russia and then in London, only moving back to America with his family out of necessity when his father died from cholera. While a child in Russia, Whistler had attended drawing classes, but it wasn't until 1855 after dropping out of West Point Military Academy that he embarked on an artistic career, eventually settling in Paris. He quickly made his presence felt due to his flamboyant, eccentric ways. He would walk the streets of Paris wearing a straw hat, a white suit, highly polished black patent leather shoes and a monocle. While in France, the realism of Gustave Courbet was an early influence on his art. After moving to London in 1859, he discovered and made etchings of the Thames River, which would eventually become one of his preferred subjects. In London he met Joanna Hiffernan, who modeled for him and was his companion for the following seven years. One sees Joanna in Whistler's Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl. The works that followed had a similar design and composition, and the subjects were often full-length female figures. Whistler drew parallels between his artwork and music, classing his paintings as 'arrangements' and 'symphonies,' and often titling them thus. He once said "As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, the subject matter has nothing to do with harmony of sound or colour." Whistler believed that art should be enjoyed for its own sake, and not tell a moral tale, or be judgmental or self-conscious. He intended his works to be visually pleasing, and was concerned solely with what could be seen on the surface of the canvas: patterns, color, and the play of light and shade. In 1871, his visual style simplified when he painted Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother. The figure sits in profile on a light background. The horizontal lines of the skirting boards are what holds the painting's elements in place. The only decoration seen in the light dabs of paint defining a pattern on the curtain. After Whistler and Hiffernan parted ways, Whistler's mood changed. He became more aggressive and socially difficult. It was in this time that he painted his series of Nocturnes, and though he sold few of them, Whistler felt these paintings were the pinnacle of his career. He sustained a significant financial loss after compensation from a lawsuit against the art critic John Ruskin did not materialize. After declaring himself bankrupt, Whistler moved to Venice with his then-mistress Maud Franklin. His work during this period consisted mainly of etchings. An exhibition held on his return to London in 1880 brought him back into the public eye and restored his reputation somewhat. Commissions grew and finally he was gaining respect for his talent and abilities. In 1888 Whistler married Beatrix 'Trixie' Goodwin. Though his marriage to Trixie was successful, she died of cancer at their home in Hamstead Heath in May 1896. Whistler would later write that her illness had made his life "one long anxiety and terror." In his final years, Whistler traveled constantly. He became ill while visiting Holland in 1902 and died the following year in Chelsea, England of heart disease in 1903.