Old Battersea Bridge

Whistler, James Abbott McNeill

An American-born artist who came to Europe and was one of the most cosmopolitan artists of the nineteenth century. Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. His father, Major George Washington Whistler, had studied civil engineering at the US Military Academy at West Point. Since America was at peace during Whistler’s early childhood, Major Whistler became a successful railway engineer. In 1842 Czar Nicholas I invited him to design the first railway in Russia and the family moved to St. Petersburg. James was educated at the czar’s court, where he learned to speak French and took drawing at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. His father died in 1849 and his mother moved back to America with her two sons. Because of her late husband’s connections, Mrs. Whistler gained a place for her son James at West Point in 1851. Whistler achieved only low grades at West Point and was discharged, after which he joined the U.S. Coast and Geodesic Survey in Washington D.C. but resigned after three months. In 1855, Whistler left America for Paris, where he lived and worked with other painters, including Fantin Latour.  He moved to London in 1859 but continued to make regular visits to Paris. Whistler was a dandy, a wit and a lavish host, whose lifestyle led him to be almost permanently in debt. He was awarded many honours during his career, perhaps the most prestigious of which was that of his appointment as an officer of the French Legion of Honour, after his most famous work, Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother, was purchased by the French state. The entry for James Abbot McNeill Whistler in the Dictionary of National Biography states that ‘Few painters have exercised a deeper or wider influence over their contemporaries than Whistler.’  The lithograph, Old Battersea Bridge, was donated to the Leeds Art Fund by R.H. Kitson in 1920.



Other pieces in our collection


Lees, Derwent

1913, Oil on panel

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