James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834 - 1903 American Tonalism Painters
James McNeill Whistler was the most famous American expatriate artist of the second half of the nineteenth century, and his impact on American art and artists was extensive, despite the fact that he never lived in the country as an established artist. His reputation was made through the inclusion of his works in exhibitions and the critical response to those words. He was not well known personally to fellow American artists until the summer of 1880, when Frank Duveneck (1848- 1919), accompanied by a dozen of his young American students in Munich, went on a trip to Venice. Whistler had been in the city for more than a year, seduced by its beauty and producing extraordinary body of etchings that would prove influential, especially among American artists who embraced the revival of the "painterly" etching technique.
Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, and moved at the age of seven with his family to Russia; Tsar Nicholas I had invited his father, George Whistler, a noted civil engineer and instructor at West Point, to supervise the building of Saint Petersburg- Moscow railroad. Young Whistler enjoyed a relatively comfortable life in Saint Petersburg, where he took weekly drawing lessons with a private instructor; he later attended boarding school in England. At Christmas, the year he was fourteen, he announced that he had decided to become an artist. Although George Whistler had presented his son with Sir Joshua Reynold's Discourses, he took a dim view of the youngster's decision. The elder Whistler's death the next year left James with no option other than to fulfill his father's wishes and return to the United States and enroll at West Point. He remained there for three years, but did not complete his course of study.
In 1855, when he reacfhed the age of twenty-one and came into a small legacy from his father, Whistler left for London where his sister and her husband lived, intent on becoming an artist; he never returned to the United States. Although he did not renounce his citizenship, his position as America's most celebrated painter was earned outside his home country.
In the 1870s, Whistler painted a series he called Nocturnes, lyrical studies of the intersection of sky and water in lambent moonlight. The watercolor Blue and Silver transposes the scene to a daylight view along the Thames. At the lower right is the artist's signature; originally, he used his initials to form a butterfly cipher, which grew increasingly abstracted over the years, until it became the mark seen on this work. When he was a boy thinking of being an artist, his mother advised him against such a flighty pursuit. "I only warn you not to be a butterfly sporting about from one temptation to idleness to another." Perhaps choosing the butterfly as his seal and trademark was Whistler's way of pointing out the validity of his early decisions.