James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, July 10, 1834–July 17, 1903) was an artist who believed art should be created for the sake of creating art. Although Whistler was born in Lowell, MA, he relocated in 1843 to Russia, where his father worked for a railroad. While there, he took private art lessons, and, at the age of 11, he enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. While staying with his family in London from 1847 to 1848, Whistler became more interested in art and photography.
After his father's death, Whistler returned with his family to his mother's hometown in Pomfret, CT. His mother sent him to Christ Church Hall School hoping that he would become a minister. Whistler had no interest in that pursuit and instead applied to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he received less-than ideal grades. After many instances of being outspoken to authority, Whistler was dismissed from the academy and went on to work as a draftsman mapping the entire US coast for military and maritime uses; he had difficulty staying interested in this work. Discovered drawing in the margins of the maps, Whistler was transferred to the etching division of the US Coast Survey, where he stayed for only two months. Whistler decided on a career in art and set out in 1855 to study in Paris. He fell into poor health, mostly due to his drinking and excessive smoking.
In 1858, his health had improved to some degree, and he began to travel through France and the Rhineland. During this time, he created a set of etchings called The French Set and painted his first self-portrait titled Portrait of Whistler with Hat, which was said to be dark, similar to the work of Rembrandt (Dutch, 1606–1669). In 1858 Whistler participated in his first exhibit showing Mere Gerard. Whistler continued to exhibit his work and travel to such locations as Chile. He titled many of his collections of art "arrangements" or "harmonies," emphasizing the parallelism he found between art and music. He credited this finding to musician and artist Fredrick Leyland (British, 1832–1892). One of Whistler's most famous paintings was Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, often referred to as Whistler's Mother. The artist died on July 17, 1903.