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Whistler was born in Massachusetts. When he was nine the family moved to
Russia where his father was building a railroad. Six years later his father
died and the family returned to America. He worked for a while as a draftsman
drawing maps, but he got in trouble for drawing pictures in the margins of the
maps. He finally decided to just pursue art, and in 1855 he sailed to Paris.
He was to never return to America. His first successful showing in Paris was
at an exhibit of independent artists. The painting was called Symphony in
White No. 2 The White Girl. He studied in Venice for a year or so and made a
series of etchings there. He returned to London. Some people ridiculed his
work and did not take him seriously as an artist. When he was in public, he
appeared to be a careless, idle person, but when he went to work in his
studio, he was just the opposite. In 1888 he married a widow, Beatrix Godwin.
Eight years later she died and he was devastated. In 1903 he became ill and
died. The portrait of Whistler's mother was almost rejected when he first
presented it, but it has become a much-loved portrait in America. He called
the painting An Arrangement in Grey and Black. He kept the painting in his
home for many years and finally offered it to the French government for the
price of 120 pounds. It is appraised at about $30 million.