George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier's grandfather, Robert-Mathurin Busson du Maurier was a French glass-blower who came to live in London and to work for a Whitefriars glass firm. Despite the family name, his family were not aristocrats. However, in London Robert-Mathurin invented a noble family history for himself. He was imprisoned twice for fraud, once in La Force, France, and later in King's Bench prison, London in 1798-99.
George Du Maurier's father, Louis-Mathurin, began to train as an opera singer at the Conservatoire in Paris, but then turned to science and the making of inventions. He married Ellen Clark in 1831. Ellen's family too had a dark past, her mother having become notorious for the libellous and sensational pamphlets which she wrote against, most notably, William Fitzgerald, Chancellor of Ireland. The latter sued her for libel, resulting in a nine month prison sentence. George Du Maurier was the first child of Louis-Mathurin and Ellen. His godfathers were George Clark, Ellen's brother, and the son of the Duke of Palmella.
The illustrator, satirist and novelist Du Maurier trained as a painter in Paris in the studio of the Swiss painter Charles Gleyre, a disciple of Ingres. He was supported financially by his grandmother who had been blackmailing her ex-lover Frederick Duke of York. In 1857 he enrolled as a student at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts. However, in that year he suddenly lost the sight in his left eye through a detached retina, and was unable to continue his career as a painter.
Du Maurier arrived in London in May 1860, and deciding on a career in illustrating. It was in this year that he began submitting drawings to The Welcome Guest, Once A Week and Punch. His first drawing for The Cornhill was accepted in 1863. From 1873 until 1882 he became particularly well known for his satirical cartoons of the aesthetes for Punch.
Although as early as 1857 he had made plans for a novel, and in 1862 had written a short story that had been rejected by The Cornhill, he did not begin to write seriously until 1890. The result was Peter Ibbetson which was published in Harper's Monthly in 1891. This was followed by his best seller Trilby which appeared in instalments in Harper's Monthly in 1894.
Du Maurier first met Whistler in Paris on 17 June 1856 in Gleyre's studio where Whistler was also a student. On his arrival in London he very quickly sought Whistler out. Whistler introduced him to his half-sister Deborah and her husband Seymour Haden. They shared a flat at 70 Newman Street for a few months in 1860. They continued to meet with each other throughout the 1860s having many friends in common, including Edward Poynter, Thomas Jeckyll, Henry Stacy Marks and Charles Keene. Du Maurier was a member of The Arts Club (as was Whistler) from 1863-1896.
In his Punch cartoons ridiculing the Aesthetic Movement Du Maurier had shown his disdain for Whistler's art and lifestyle. However, matters came to a head in 1894 when Du Maurier's satirical novel Trilby was published in Harper's Monthly. Whistler was indignant to find many personal references in the character Joe Sibley, 'the idle apprentice, the king of bohemia'. He complained to Harper's, the Pall Mall Gazette and the President of the Beefsteak Club, of which both men were members. He threatened to sue. Ultimately the situation was calmed by an apology from Harper's, the toning down of references to the artist and the removal of those drawings of Whistler in the 1895 publication.
Despite the dispute, Du Maurier bought a couple of lithographs by Whistler from the Fine Art Society in 1895.
UK census 1881; Records of The Art Club, London; Du Maurier, Daphne, (ed.), The Young George Du Maurier: A Selection of his Letters, 1860-67, London, 1951; Ormond, Leonée, George du Maurier, London, 1969; Spink, Nesta R., Harriet K. Stratis, and Martha Tedeschi, The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler, (gen. eds, Harriet K. Stratis and Martha Tedeschi), 2 vols., Chicago, 1998 , p. 174; Ormond, Leonée, 'George Du Maurier', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy.