1843 - 1903
Realist painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in Massachusetts, but he predominantly worked in London and Paris throughout his career. Whistler was one of the main artists associated with the style Tonalism, which involved landscapes of blended hues that create a powerful, intense atmosphere. The names of his works were inspired by musical language and titles often involved the words ‘symphony’, ‘arrangement’, ‘harmony’ and ‘nocturne’.
Arrangement in Grey and Black (The Artist’s Mother) 1871
His most famous piece is undoubtedly Arrangement in Grey and Black, though it is more commonly referred to as ‘Whistler’s Mother’. The piece as it is almost didn’t exist; the original model supposedly didn’t turn up! I have always found something very dark and almost sinister about this piece. I think it is the way Whistler’s mother looks forward toward the black curtains, which to me represent the end of life. The fact that she is dressed in black only enhances this idea to me.
Symphony in White, No.1 is another of Whistler’s pieces with ominous undertones; the girl dressed in white looks relatively innocent at first, until you see the bear skin under her feet. The model is Joanna Hiffernan, Whistler’s mistress and manager, who was also romantically involved with Gustave Courbet, the French Realist.
Symphony in White, No.1 (The White Girl) 1862