JAMES ABBOT MCNEILL WHISTLER was born on July 10, 1834 in Lowell, Massachusetts. In 1843, he relocated to Russia where he began attending private art lessons. At the age of 11, he enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. His first job was working as a draftsman. Whistler mapped the entire US coast for military and maritime use. After having been discovered drawing in the margins of the maps, Whistler was transferred to the etching division of the US Coast Survey. This encouraged him to pursue a career in art.
In 1855 Whistler moved to Paris and began painting. He was a strong believer in "art for art's sake". His paintings often featured a stylized butterfly with a stinger for a tail. This symbol parallels the divisiveness between his artistic style and his personality. Whistler’s works display subtlety and delicacy. His character was combative and flamboyant. Whistler titled many of his paintings "arrangements", "harmonies", and "nocturnes", to create a relationship between his paintings and the primacy of music.
From 1847 to 1848, Whistler stayed with his family in London and continued practicing painting and photography. In 1858 Whistler began to travel through France and the Rhineland. Whistler settled in Paris first, where he studied at the Ecole Impériale et Spéciale de Dessin, before entering the Académie Gleyre. He met Courbet, whose Realism inspired him to align himself with the Avante-Garde artists of the time. In 1859, Whistler moved to London but continued to visit Paris regularly. He was famous for his talent and dandy. He had many famous friends, including Oscar Wilde.
Whistler died in London, England, July 17, 1903, at the age of 69.
James Whistler : la vieille aux loques, 1858