Whistler A Life for Art's Sake Daniel E. Sutherland

Publication date:
01 Feb 2014
Yale University Press
440 pages: 235 x 159mm
12 color + 94 b-w illus.
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A major new biography of James McNeill Whistler, one of most complex, intriguing, and important of America’s artists

The first biography in more than twenty years of James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) is also the first to make extensive use of the artist’s private correspondence to tell the story of his life and work. This engaging personal history dispels the popular notion of Whistler as merely a combative, eccentric, and unrelenting publicity seeker, a man as renowned for his public feuds with Oscar Wilde and John Ruskin as for the iconic portrait of his mother. The Whistler revealed in these pages is an intense, introspective, and complex man, plagued by self-doubt and haunted by an endless pursuit of perfection in his painting and drawing.
In his beautifully illustrated and deeply human portrayal of the artist, Daniel E. Sutherland shows why Whistler was perhaps the most influential artist of his generation, and certainly a pivotal figure in the cultural history of the nineteenth century. Whistler comes alive through his own magnificent work and words, including the provocative manifestos that explained his bold artistic vision, sparked controversy in his own time, and resonate to this day.

Daniel E. Sutherland is Distinguished Professor of History, University of Arkansas. The recipient of more than fifty awards, honors, and grants, he is best known for his acclaimed series of books chronicling nineteenth-century America.

"Immensely readable . . . a lively addition to the understanding of this difficult and important American artist."—Kirkus Reviews

Sutherland's account. . .is unobtrusively scholarly and he is a sensible explainer of the work, accessible and illuminating to the general reader. We get three thick wodges of plates, so the paintings are on hand. He knew everybody, learned what he needed to learn and became singular. Sutherland deftly explains how." —Sam Leith, The Spectator

“[Sutherland] has delved into the artist’s correspondence as well as scores of archives to forge a lucid account of what by any standards was an unruly, restless life. . . This biography does much to illuminate Whistler’s career, showing up the public man, the tireless self-promoter, with his rough-and-tumble engagement with the art world of his day.”—Mark Thomas, The Daily Telegraph

“This is the story of a true bohemian.”—Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

“Sutherland wants to get behind the Whistler myth and reveal what he calls the ‘covert myth’ – that is, the inner life of this enigmatic man. In order to this, he has provided a well-written and dramatic story.”—J. B. Bullen, Apollo Magazine

“Daniel Sutherland, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, has given us a warts-and-all portrait of Whistler, the man, the work and his times.”—A.N.Wilson, The Financial Times

“The first comprehensive biography of Whistler in at least a generation . . . Sutherland skillfully captures Whistler’s ambition, tenacity, and insecurity and presents his life in a narrative that does justice to both his triumphs and his failures.”—Eleanor Jones Harvey, American Scholar

“[Sutherland] seeks to get behind the public Whistler . . . never judging or condescending to his subject . . . The portrait of Whistler that emerges is complex and mysterious . . . a measured and scholarly account of an extraordinary life."—Ruth Scurr, Wall Street Journal

“The book is finely crafted and exhaustively researched. . .Sutherland is prodigiously well informed.”—Alex Danchev, New Statesman

“Sutherland’s illustrious, cradle-to-grave biography is nicely old-fashioned: it recounts Whistler’s career in chronological order, is generous with detail, and keeps psychological speculation to a minimum.”—Michael Prodger, The Mail on Sunday

‘Sutherland [writes] with admirable precision and thoroughness. The picture he creates of Whistler – his working methods, his professional vicissitudes, his critical reception, his vexed relationships – is like one of the artist’s own wonderful early etchings, both clear in line and rich in detail. It is an impressive achievement.’—Matthew Sturgis, Times Literary Supplement

“Wonderfully precise . . . full of sharp notes of detail . . . compelling . . . a beautifully written account.”—Farisa Khalid, PopMatters

‘Sutherland is masterful. . .Thorough and unpedantic, [Whistler] distinguishes itself by its unobtrusive scholarly edifice and extensive use of Whistler letters.’—Vladislav Davidzon, The Art Newspaper

“Sutherland’s admirably researched and memorable biography should find new admirers for this prickly, headstrong artist and provocateur.”—Ann Landi, ARTnews

“Engaging”—Christopher Benfey, New York Review of Books

“[A] lucid and jargon-free biography”—Deborah Solomon, New York Times Book Review