Whistler: A Life for Art’s Sake

Whistler-Nocturne_in_black_and_goldAN Wilson at the Finanacial Times:

An astonishing 20 years have passed since Richard Dorment and Margaret MacDonald’s exhibition of James McNeill Whistler at London’s Tate Gallery, and yet the thrill of the work – the remarkable “Nocturnes” of the Thames, the portraits, the nude drawings, the lithographs and etchings – is as fresh in my mind as if it had been yesterday.

It is more than time for a new biography of this great artist, American by birth but for most of his life a European, who left behind such a range of beautiful artworks and who was also, in the judgment of the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, “a little viper”. Daniel Sutherland, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, has given us a warts-and-all portrait of Whistler, the man, the work and his times.

The father was an engineer, who was hired by the tsar of Russia to build the Moscow to St Petersburg railway. He died young and his widow Anna, destined to be the most famous artist’s model since the Mona Lisa, took the family back to America for a short spell. Anna’s tiny firstborn son James, after education at private school in England, was placed at the West Point military academy.

more here.