Inspired by many sources and styles, artist James Whistler would earn a reputation as one of the most influential and controversial artists of his era. He was an advocate of Tonalism, Symbolism, Impressionism, Luminism and even Art Nouveau; his works were done in oil, chalk, ink, watercolor, pastel and pen, and he would create many etchings and lithographs as well. He frequently gave his works titles taken directly from musical terminology as a way of enhancing the works' emphasis on tonal harmonies, later in his career he would actually rename earlier works in such a way as well.
He was born in Massachusetts but lived in Russia for the majority of his childhood. The family returned to America in 1849, but Whistler would travel to Europe only six years later and never return to his native country again.
He studied with Charles Gleyre in Paris and immediately entered into the avant garde art circles of the city. He befriended many artists who would soon be famous for their new styles and methods including Manet, Degas and Cezanne. He gained notoriety in 1860 for his "Symphony in White", which caused much discussion and debate. From this point onward he was a major figure in the European art scene. He painted many more notable portraits, including that of his mother, designed the famous "peacock room", sued art critic John Ruskin for libel, and began working frequently in etching.
During and after his lifetime his works were exhibited widely, including the Armory Show of 1913 and in the Paris Salons. His many works are in some of the world's most important collections including those in the United States, France, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and Spain. In addition to his art, Ruskin also authored books on art theory and design.