James Whistler was born in Connecticut, but spent most of his life in Europe. His father was a railroad engineer, and when Whistler was eleven the family relocated to St. Petersburg, which Whistler claimed as his birthplace during a libel trial in his later life. Whistler’s first job was drafting the United States coastline for the military, but he was often bored at work and drew sea monsters and mermaids on the maps. After this, he decided that art would be his sole career pursuit and moved to Paris, where he was mostly self-taught. In Paris he met a dressmaker named Héloise, who he sometimes referred to as Fumette and who served as his model and muse. Their relationship lasted two years, though not always happily. The two lived a Bohemian lifestyle, Héloise often drawing attention for wearing her hair down instead of in the socially accepted bun. She also earned the nickname “the tigress” from Whistler, and on one occasion destroyed an entire group of his drawings in a fit of rage. Despite their fiery relationship, Whistler loved to feature Héloise in his drawings and etchings. In this etching, Héloise is seated, hands wrapped around her stomach. This inward gesture seems to represent Whistler’s view of his Fumette as a mysterious and sensual figure.
-Constantine Botimer, Class of 2019