Skip Navigation LinksThe Library of Congress >> Prints & Photographs Division >> Prints & Photographs Online Catalog>> Master Drawings (About)

Background and Scope: Whistler and Other Artists

Madonna and Child
Madonna and Child, 1600-1700.

The Master Drawings Collection at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division includes more than 300 drawings by more than 50 different artists spanning the 1400s to the 1900s. Common subjects include figures, landscapes, and genre scenes shown through sketches, studies, and finished works. Artists represented, chiefly from the United States and countries in Europe, include James McNeill Whistler, Charles Keene, Rockwell Kent, Leonetto Cappiello, Cândido Portinari, and Jean François Millet. For a full list of identified or attributed artists, see the index of artist names at


Among the Library's almost 40 drawings by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) are a map said to have been made when the artist was 15 years old, humorous sketches made at West Point in the early 1850s, about 20 butterfly drawings (the artist's monogram), and a superb self-portrait.

Whistler, self portrait
James McNeil Whistler,
Self portrait,

A celebrated American painter and printmaker, Whistler was a leading figure in the Aesthetic Movement, which promoted "Art for Art's Sake." His embrace of this concept extended to the titles he gave his artworks. He often referred to colors, such as Gold and Brown for a self-portrait, or musical terms, such as Nocturne for a Venetian scene, rather than direct subject references. Whistler first studied art in St. Petersburg, Russia, and at the West Point Military Academy before taking brief employment as an artist for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey where he learned etching. At the age of 21, he traveled to Europe to become a professional artist. He studied, lived, and practiced art in Paris, before moving in 1859 to London, where he stayed for most of his life. A colorful and controversial figure, Whistler moved in both avant-garde and establishment circles. Whistler took the butterfly as his personal emblem and monogram and was an influential practitioner of the aesthetic of Japonisme.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division acquired the Whistler drawings primarily from the personal collection of his friends and biographers, Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, with subsequent purchases through the Pennell Fund. The other master drawings came from many different sources, chiefly through generous donations. Two early examples are the Gardiner Greene Hubbard Collection (gift in 1898) and the George Lothrop Bradley Collection (bequest in 1919), which included master drawings as well as fine art prints.

Skip Navigation LinksThe Library of Congress >> Prints & Photographs Division >> Prints & Photographs Online Catalog >> Master Drawings (About)
May 1, 2008