Papers of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1834-1903, American-born painter and graphic artist

Scope and Content

  • Photographs and photographic prints 1892
  • Correspondence, including letters to Cecilia Maxse, (1882-1893); Mme George Kohler and others, (1890-1894); Louise Kinsella, (1895-1902); H.C. Marillier, (1896) 1882-1903

Administrative / Biographical History

James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in in  1834  in Lowell, Massachusetts, the third son of West Point graduate and civil engineer Major George Washington Whistler, and his second wife Anna Matilda McNeill. After brief stays in Stonington, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts, the Whistlers moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, where the Major served as an civil engineer for the construction of a railroad line to Moscow. Whistler was aged nine when his family moved to Russia, and he spent several of his childhood years there, studying drawing at the Imperial Academy of Science. He soon became an inveterate traveller. In  1848  he went to live with his sister and her husband in London, and after his father's death the following year the family returned to the United States and settled in Pomfret, Connecticut. He enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point in  1851 , where he excelled in Robert W Weir's drawing class. He was dismissed from the academy in  1854  for deficiency in chemistry, and after brief periods working for the Winans Locomotive Works in Baltimore, and the drawings division of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (he learnt etching as a US navy cartographer), resolved to become an artist and moved to Europe permanently in  1855 .

Whistler settled in Paris first, where he studied at the Ecole Impriale et Spciale de Dessin, before entering the Acadmie Gleyre, founded by the Swiss painter  Charles Gleyre (1808-1874 ). He made copies in the  Muse du Louvre, acquired a lasting admiration for the work of Diego Velzquez, and became a devotee of the cult of the Japanese print and oriental art and decoration in general. Through his friend  Ignace Henri Jean Thodore Fantin-Latour he met Gustave Courbet, whose Realism inspired much of his early work. The circles in which he moved can be gauged from Fantin-Latour's Homage to Delacroix, in which Whistler is portrayed alongside Baudelaire, Manet, and others. He quickly associated himself with avant garde artists, and was influenced by Courbet's realism, as well as the seventeenth century Dutch and Spanish schools. With Henri Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros, he founded the Socit des Trois. After Whistler's At The Piano (Taft Museum, Cincinnati) was rejected at the Salon of  1859  he moved to London, but often returned to France. His painting At the Piano was well received at the Royal Academy exhibition in  1860  and he soon made a name for himself, not just because of his talent, but also on account of his flamboyant personality. He was famous for his wit and dandyism, and loved controversy. His life-style was lavish and he was often in debt. He began work on a series of etchings. There Whistler was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, and he befriended Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Sources: The Oxford Companion to Western Art, ed. Hugh Brigstocke, Oxford University Press, 2001.


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information


Acquisition Information

  • Whistler X100: Purchased from David Schulson Autographs, New York, Catalogue 111, item 9, 15 November 2001.
  • Whistler PH9: Purchased from Glasgow University Photographic Unit, 1993.
  • MS Whistler S307: Purchased from R.M. Smythe, New York, Autumn Autograph Auction, Sale 216, 29 November 2001, item 441, via Quaritch, with support from National Fund for Acquisitions. Received 14 December 2001.
  • MS Whistler H579: Purchased from David J. Holmes Autographs, 7 January 2002.
  • MS Whistler I119: Purchased from Leonard Roberts, Vancouver, Catalogue, item 358, 1 October 2002.
  • MS Whistler: Transferred from Hunterian Art Gallery, 20 December 2002.
  • MS Whistler K52-54: Purchased from Carlyle Gallery, 17 December 2003, with support from National Fund for Acquisitions
  • MS Whistler M522-523: Purchased from Roy Davids Ltd, Great Haseley, 20 January 2004.

Other Finding Aids

Item level descriptions are available via the department's online manuscripts catalogue available at the University of Glasgow Library, Department of Special Collections

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Andrew Thomson, Hub Project Archivist, July 2004. Fonds level description compiled by Danielle West, Archive volunteer, June 2004.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Keeper of Special Collections.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 0247 procedures

Custodial History



None expected

Location of Originals

This material is original


No known publications using this material

Corporate Names