Art: Pleasures of the Iron Butterfly

On his 150th anniversary, fresh views of Whistler

Among the thousands of nasty quips and barbed conceits that James Abbott McNeill Whistler sped at the world, the only one that everyone knows is perhaps apocryphal. Oscar Wilde, in admiration of some Whistlerian mot: "Jimmy, I wish I had said that." Whistler: "You will, Oscar, you will." In all his long career Whistler produced only one painting that enjoyed the same permanent celebrity as this riposte, and it, of course, is Arrangement in Gray and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, 1872, one...

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