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May 16, 2011

Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Leyland by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2011;13(3):224-225. doi:10.1001/archfacial.2011.20

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was a complex character. He was an American by birth, but the term “citizen of the world” has rarely been more aptly applied. Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1834. A few years after his birth the family moved to St Petersburg, Russia. Whistler's father, “the Major,” was an engineer who had been hired to help in the building of the railroad that would run between Moscow and St Petersburg. Major Whistler was a patron of the arts and was interested in his children having an education that included music and visits to museums. Whistler's sister, Deborah, played the piano, and while in St Petersburg the children were taken to the imperial galleries as well as the museums. This education also included lessons for the young Whistler at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Whistler's mother, later the subject of the famous portrait, was a devout and pious Christian who wished to raise her children to follow her example. In particular, she disliked showiness and over-the-top decoration. Whistler was a devoted son, which is why when he entered adulthood he chose to honor her by taking her maiden name, McNeill, as his middle name and dropping his given middle name, Abbott.1(p6)While Mrs Whistler supported her son's art education, she nonetheless wished that he would do something practical with it, such as architecture or engineering.

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