Few painters have exercised a deeper or wider influence over their contemporaries than Whistler. All that is good in real impressionism sprang originally from his teaching and example, and even now no one has equalled the unity and repose of his best works, ‘The Little White Girl,’ the ‘Mother,’ ‘Miss Alexander,’ ‘Carlyle,’ ‘Duret,’ ‘Sarasate,’ or even the little picture—nocturne blue and gold—‘Old Battersea Bridge,’ at the Tate Gallery, which, first exhibited in 1877, was presented by the National Art Collections Fund in 1905 and is, so far, his only representative in the London collections. The ‘Sarasate’ is at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburg. But a tragic element was brought into his life by the conflicting strains in his own character. A love of pose, which found vent in eccentricities of dress, in extravagant paradox and biting epigram, gave him social notoriety. More exclusively an artist, perhaps, in his work than any painter since the days of Rembrandt, he yet thirsted after the worldly honours and acclamations which are only to be won by men whose productions can appeal to those who are not artists. He was at once capable of the deepest affection and so thin-skinned that he would allow a slight to cancel a long-standing friendship. He had an abnormally keen eye for provocation. He was eager to propagate true ideas about art, but he resented their existence in anyone but himself. Speaking broadly, his ambition was to be acknowledged as a sort of æsthetic dictator. Nothing would have satisfied him short of being accepted as both the greatest painter and the official figurehead of art, in his time, while his character unfitted him to take even the initial steps towards such a consummation. As a painter, he lacked something on the sensuous side. He was fond of asserting the partial truth that art is science. In distilling from a natural scene such constituents as can be fused into a simple, sternly concentrated, æsthetic unity Whistler has never been surpassed. It is only when we seek the touch of excess, the hint at some personal, irresponsible preference, through which genius so often speaks, that we feel a slight stirring of disappointment. As an etcher he ranks with Rembrandt, in command of the métier, and in contentment with what it can do without any kind of forcing. As a man Whistler was one of the most remarkable social units of his time. His epigrammatic wit and power of repartee inspired a curious mixture of dread and admiration, which was deepened by the inability of the slower minds about him to foresee when they would tread upon his toes and bring out his lightning.
A memorial exhibition of Whistler's work was held by the International Society at Knightsbridge in 1905, and a loan collection was brought together at the Tate Gallery in the summer of 1912. Six of his finest pictures are in the art collection of Mr. Charles Lang Freer, of Detroit, which has been presented to the Smithsonian Institution at Washington.
Portraits of Whistler are numerous, from an early miniature reproduced in Mrs. Pennell's ‘Life,’ and a head painted when the sitter was fourteen by Sir William Boxall, to the various portraits of himself drawn and painted throughout his active years. At one time he is said to have made some sort of a portrait of himself every day. Most of these were destroyed by himself. Self-portraits in oil survive in the McCulloch collection, in the possession of Mr. Douglas Freshfield, and in the Municipal Art Gallery at Dublin; a drawing in black chalk belongs to Mr. Thomas Way, and there are three etchings. The portrait known as ‘Whistler with a large hat’ belongs to Mr. Freer, who also owns a portrait by Fantin-Latour which was cut out from a large group, the rest of which was destroyed. He was also painted by Boldini and by W. M. Chase. There is a lithograph by Paul Rajon, dry-points by Helleu and Percy Thomas, a caricature in ‘Vanity Fair’ by ‘Spy’ in 1878, and a bust by Sir Edgar Boehm, R.A.
[E. R. and J. Pennell's Life of James McNeill Whistler, London, 2 vols. 1908, and revised edit. in 1 vol., 1911, is the indispensable authority. See also T. R. Way and G. R. Dennis's The Art of James McNeill Whistler, 1903; T. R. Way's Cat. of Lithographs, 1905, and his Memoirs of Whistler, 1912; Graves' Roy. Acad. Exhibitors; Duret, Histoire de J. McNeill Whistler et son œuvre, 1904; Mortimer Menpes's Whistler as I knew him, 1904; Howard Mansfield's Cat., 1909; E. G. Kennedy, The Etched Work of Whistler, issued by Grolier Club of New York, 6 vols., 1910; The Times, 18 July 1903; Writings by and about Whistler, by Don C. Seitz, Edinburgh, 1910; private information and personal knowledge.]
WHITE, JOHN CAMPBELL, first Baron Overtoun, (1843–1908), Scottish churchman and philanthropist, born at Hayfield, near Rutherglen, on 21 Nov. 1843, was only son in a family of seven children of James White of Overtoun (d. 1884), one of the partners of the extensive chemical manufacturing firm of John and James White, Shawfield,