James McNeill Whistler

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James McNeill Whistler, Self-portrait (painted 1872), It takes a long time for a man to look like his portrait.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-07-111903-07-17) was an American-born, British-based painter and etcher.


  • John Ruskin: "The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?"
    Whistler: "No. I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime."
    • Whistler v. Ruskin (1878)
  • Two and two continue to make four, in spite of the whine of the amateur for three, or the cry of the critic for five.
    • Whistler v. Ruskin
  • "I know of only two painters in the world," said a newly introduced feminine enthusiast to Whistler, "yourself and Velasquez." "Why," answered Whistler in dulcet tones, "why drag in Velasquez?"
    • D.C. Seitz, Whistler Stories (1913)
  • [In response to a lady who said that a landscape reminded her of his work] Yes, madam, Nature is creeping up.
    • D.C. Seitz, Whistler Stories
  • Oscar Wilde: "I wish I had said that"
    Whistler: "You will, Oscar, you will."
    • L.C. Ingleby, Oscar Wilde (1907)
  • A group from Glasgow sought in 1891 to purchase his portrait of Thomas Carlyle was shocked that Whistler's price was 1000 guineas. A spokesman countered that the portrait was not even life size. Whistler replied, "But, you know, few men are life size."
    • Tom Prideaux and Time-Life Books, The World of Whistler (1970)
  • May I therefore acknowledge the tender glow of health induced by reading, as I sat here in the morning sun, the flattering attention paid me by your gentleman of ready wreath and quick biography!
    • After a Dutch newspaper prematurely reported his death in 1902

Ten O'Clock (1885)

  • Art is upon the Town!
  • Listen! There was never an artistic period. There was never an art-loving nation.
  • Nature is usually wrong.

The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (1890)

  • The rare few, who, early in life, have rid themselves of the friendship of the many.
    • Dedication
  • To say of a picture, as is often said in its praise, that it shows great and earnest labor, is to say that it is incomplete and unfit for view.
    • Propositions, 2
  • Industry in art is a necessity—not a virtue—and any evidence of the same, in the production, is a blemish, not a quality; a proof, not of achievement, but of absolutely insufficient work, for work alone will efface the footsteps of work.
    • Propositions, 2
  • The masterpiece should appear as the flower to the painter—perfect in its bud as in its bloom—with no reason to explain its presence—no mission to fulfill—a joy to the artist, a delusion to the philanthropist—a puzzle to the botanist—an accident of sentiment and alliteration to the literary man.
    • Propositions, 2
  • Art should be independent of all claptrap—should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye and ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it.
    • Propositions, 2
  • It is for the artist...in portrait painting to put on canvas something more than the face the model wears for that one day; to paint the man, in short, as well as his features.
    • Propositions, 2
  • One cannot continually disappoint a Continent.
    • Propositions, 2
  • I am not arguing with you – I am telling you.
    • Propositions, 2


  • Art is a goddess of dainty thought-reticent of habit,abjuring all obtrusiveness,puposing in no way to better others. She is, withal selfishly occupied with her own perfection only — having no desire to teach.
  • I can't tell you if genius is hereditary, because heaven has granted me no offspring.
  • If more than 5% of the people like a painting then burn it for it must be bad.
  • If other people are going to talk, conversation becomes impossible.
  • It takes a long time for a man to look like his portrait.
  • It would have been called provincial and barbarous; it would have been cited as an incident of low civilization to confuse such art.
  • Just as music is the poetry of the ear,so painting is that of the eye.
  • You shouldn't say it is not good. You should say, you do not like it; and then, you know, you're perfectly safe.
  • Art should be independent of all claptrap —should stand alone [...] and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism and the like.

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