Whistler was an American-born painter, who studied in Russia (as a child) and later in Paris, before settling in London. He was an acquaintance and colleague of a number of the most experimental French and British artists of the day as well as his fellow-American expatriate, the celebrated portraitist John Singer Sargent, and a number of influential critics, including Charles Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier.
Whistler’s style is distinguished by its simplicity, at a time when sentimentality and exuberant decoration were in vogue. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the aesthetic movement, celebrating ’art for art’s sake’, and took great delight in angering the contemporary critics with his works.
He was often inspired by music, and beginning around 1870 he began to give his paintings titles that referred to musical forms, such as ’nocturne’, ’arrangement’, ’harmony’, and ’symphony’ (as in his series of portraits entitled Symphony in White). It was also during this period that he painted his best-known work, Arrangement in Black and Grey, more commonly known as Whistler’s Mother.