Editor's note: The Frick Collection provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact The Frick Collection directly through either this phone number or web address:


Whistler, Women, and Fashion

April 22, 2003 through July 13, 2003


Marking the centenary of the death of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), The Frick Collection will present Whistler, Women, and Fashion - the first in-depth exploration of the artist's lifelong involvement in fashion as an essential aspect of his work. The Frick Collection is the sole venue for the exhibition, which features eight magnificent full-length oil portraits of women by Whistler and sixty other works, including oils, his finest prints and drawings, pastel studies for paintings, costume designs by the artist, and portrait etchings and watercolors, as well as fashion plates and period costumes. (left: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Mrs. Frederick R. Leyland, 1871-74, oil on canvas, 196 x 102 cm (77 1/8 x 40 1/4 inches), The Frick Collection, Purchased in 1916)

The exhibition is organized by Susan Grace Galassi, Curator at The Frick Collection, and the leading Whistler scholar, Margaret F. MacDonald, Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Whistler Studies at the University of Glasgow; Aileen Ribeiro, Head of the History of Dress Section at the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London, is the costume consultant for the exhibition. The three scholars, joined by Patricia de Montfort, Research Fellow at the Centre for Whistler Studies, are the authors of a fully illustrated accompanying book to be published by Yale University Press. The publication is the first venture between art and dress history that places fashion at the center of a great artist's work. The book will also include new biographical material about Whistler's sitters, among them artists, actresses, society women, and members of his family, and their roles in his life and work.

Spanning the three central decades of the artist's career, the paintings, prints, drawings, and costumes will illuminate Whistler's participation in the lively interchange between art and fashion in the second half of the nineteenth century. At the heart of the exhibition are ten oil portraits, eight of which will be displayed in the museum's Oval Room. Three stunning portraits from The Frick Collection are joined by works on loan from national and international collections, including the Tate Britain, London; the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl (1864) will be paired with Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Mrs. Frederick R. Leyland (1871-74). The first work, in which the artist depicted his Irish model and mistress, Jo Hiffernan, in a simple white muslin gown, without a crinoline, reveals the influence of Pre-Raphaelite artistic dress - one of the first alternative movements in nineteenth-century fashion. Artistic dress, as well as Classical, French eighteenth-century, and Japanese dress were sources for the beautiful pink chiffon gown that Whistler designed for Frances Leyland to harmonize with the décor of the room, which he also designed. The portrait is a complete statement of his Aesthetic principles. (left: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Arrangement in Black and Brown: Miss Rosa Corder, 1876-78, oil on canvas, 192 x 92 cm (75 3/4 x 36 3/8 inches), The Frick Collection, Purchased in 1914)

In Arrangement in Black and Brown: Miss Rosa Corder (1876-78) and Arrangement in Black: La Dame au Brodequin Jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell (c. 1883), Whistler painted his sitters - an artist and an aristocrat, respectively - in the elegant new street attire inspired by riding habits and men's wear. This type of stylish and functional clothing was then coming into fashion for women engaged in work outside the home. The exhibition will reunite-for the first time in nearly a century-two portraits of a demimondaine who married the heir to a brewery fortune: the Frick's Harmony in Pink and Gray: Valerie, Lady Meux (1881-82) and Arrangement in Black No. 5: Lady Meux (1881), in which Valerie, Lady Meux, dressed in high fashion, unabashedly flaunts her wealth and sex appeal. In both, Whistler makes use of the conventions of society portraiture to flatter and gently satirize his subject. Also reunited are two portraits of Ethel Birnie Philip, Whistler's sister-in-law, the model for Red and Black: The Fan (1891-97) and Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian (1888(?)-1900). They display the changing silhouette of dress in the late 1880s and 1890s and reveal Whistler's return to an interest in Spanish art and costume in his later years, as well as the extent to which fashion had become deeply assimilated into his artistic vocabulary. (right: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Harmony in Pink and Gray: Valerie, Lady Meux, 1881-82, oil on canvas, 194 x 93 cm (76 1/4 x 36 5/8 inches), The Frick Collection, Purchased in 1916)

Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (1864), a major work of the artist's early years in London, will be displayed with pastels and drawings that document Whistler's fascination with the East. Another masterpiece, Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander (1872-74), for which Whistler designed his eight-year-old sitter's dress in a contemporary style that alludes to Velázquez's infantas, joins the exhibition as a special loan in mid-June. The exhibition also includes some of Whistler's finest works in his graphic oeuvre, showing, for instance, his model and mistress Maud Franklin posing in formal and informal attire, as well as vibrant watercolors showing her in everyday dress in an interior -- wonderfully intimate evocations of their bohemian life. Finally, there are the highly personal studies of his wife, Beatrice, a designer and artist, which include the most poignant of his lithographic portraits, done shortly before her death. In these small-scale masterpieces, the artist's acute eye and feeling for costume and character are directly revealed.

Four or five dresses that correspond with the costumes depicted in the paintings and graphic work will also be on view. They provide the opportunity to see examples of actual garments from an era in which virtuoso dressmaking and alternative fashion trends flourished. The costumes also make clear how Whistler transformed and distilled the essence of the fashion extravaganzas and simple costumes of his day to fit his Art for Art's sake philosophy, which placed greater emphasis on the formal elements of line and color than the identity of the sitter. At the same time, Whistler's deep affinity with fashion -- integral to his art as a whole and to his self-presentation -- enabled him to express in his formal arrangements a strong sense of the personality of his sitters through costume and pose.



Information and links concerning a range of Whistler-related exhibitions and events planned for 2003 can be found at http://www.whistler2003.com/

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Frick Collection in Resource Library Magazine.

BSearch for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2002 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.