Ethel Philip, Whistler's sister-in-law and a favorite subject of the artist, whose likeness appears in drawings, etchings, lithographs, and at least five full-size oil paintings, stands against an empty, shallow background with her back to the viewer. She wears a grey silk gown topped with a bolero jacket of transparent silk gauze or fine net—a design inspired by traditional costumes from Spain's Andalusian region. Ethel's head and shoulders are turned slightly to the right to reveal her profile. This graceful pose emphasizes her costume's long, sweeping cascade to the floor, drawing the viewer's attention not to the model's features but to her dramatic attire. One art historian concluded that "it is not a portrait of a person, but of a dress," transforming Ethel Philip into a fashion model or mannequin rather than the subject of a formal, full-length portrait.
The work's title may also have sartorial origins—the result of Whistler's extended stay in Paris, a city renowned for its luxury fashion houses and couturiers. At that time, couture dresses were often given individual names to emphasize their uniqueness. It is possible that Whistler's title refers not to a Spanish woman, but to the model of the dress worn by Ethel.
Whistler had demonstrated a strong interest in women's fashion and its role in his portraiture long before he painted The Andalusian. In the 1870s, apparently dissatisfied with British fashions at the time, the artist himself designed the elaborate dresses worn by the female subjects of Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander (Tate Gallery, London) and Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Portrait of Mrs. Frances Leyland (Frick Collection).
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/American%20Paintings%20of%20the%20Nineteenth%20Century%20Part%20II.pdf
center right with the artist's butterfly mark
Sold 1900/1901 by the artist to Edward G. Kennedy, New York; his firm, (H. Wunderlich & Co., New York [later Kennedy Galleries]); sold January 1902 to John Howard Whittemore [d. 1910], Naugatuck, Connecticut; probably bequeathed to the J. H. Whittemore Company, Naugatuck, Connecticut, with life interest to his daughter, Miss Gertrude B. Whittemore [d. 1941], Naugatuck, Connecticut; gift 1943 to NGA.
- Fine Arts Exhibit of the United States of America, Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1900, no. 103, as Mother-of-Pearl and Silver--The Andalusian.
- 24th Annual Exhibition, Society of American Artists, New York, 1902, no. 21, as L'Andalousienne.
- 71st Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1902, no. 49, as The Andalusian.
- Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels, & Drawings, Copley Society of Boston, Copley Hall, Boston, 1904, no. 46, as L'Andalusienne.
- Oeuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905, no. 25, as L'Andalouse.
- Paintings in Oil and Pastel by James McNeill Whistler, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1910, no. 33, as L'Andalusienne: Mother of Pearl and Silver.
- A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1934, no. 417, repro., as L'Andalouse, Mother of Pearl and Silver.
- Oils, Water-colors, Drawings and Prints by James McNeill Whistler, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1934, no. 5, as L'Andalusienne.
- American Painting from 1860 until Today, The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1937, no. 208, repro., as L'Andalusienne.
- Exhibition of Paintings, The Tuttle House, Naugatuck, Connecticut, 1938, no. 37.
- Survey of American Painting, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1940, no. 138, as L'Andalusienne.
- Paintings from the Whittemore Collection, Mattatuck Historical Society, Waterbury, Connecticut, 1941, no. [ ].
- La Pintura de Los Estados Unidos de Museos de la Ciudad de Washington, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1980-1981, no. 19, color repro.
- James McNeill Whistler, Tate Gallery, London; Musée d'Orsay, Paris; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1994-1995, no. 196, repro.
- James McNeill Whistler, Walter Richard Sickert, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundación "la Caixa", Madrid; Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 1998, no. 16, repro. (shown only in Madrid).
- Paris 1900: 'The American School' at the Universal Exposition, 4 venues, shown only at 2nd and 3rd, Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Columbus Museum of Art, 1999-2001, no. 27, repro.
- The Edwardians: Secrets and Desires, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2004, no. 144, repro.
- Bénédite, Léonce. "Artistes contemporains: Whistler." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 33 (1905): 246.
- Cary, Elizabeth Luther. The Works of James McNeill Whistler: A Study, with a Tentative List of the Artist's Works. New York, 1907: no. 46, 163.
- Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell. The Life of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols. London, 1908: 2:158, 251.
- Duret, Théodore. Whistler. Translated by Frank Rutter. London, 1917: 206 (original edition, Paris, 1904).
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 88, as L'Andalouse.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 328, repro., as L'Andalouse.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 120, repro., as L'Andalouse, Mother-of-Pearl and Silver.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 257, repro., as L'Andalouse, Mother-of-Pearl and Silver.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 112, repro.
- Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, and Robin Spencer, with the assistance of Hamish Miles. The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols. New Haven, 1980: 1:170, no. 378; 2:pl. 242.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: 131, color repro. 154, as L'Andalouse, Mother-of-Pearl and Silver.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 561, no. 852, color repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 142, repro., as L'Andalouse, Mother-of-Pearl and Silver.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 381, repro.
- Dorment, Richard, and Margaret F. MacDonald. James McNeill Whistler. Exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London; Musée d'Orsay, Paris; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. London, 1994: no. 196, 275-276, color repro.
- Quesada, Luis. Pintores Españoles y Extranjeros en Andalucia, Sevilla, 1996: no. 263, repro.
- Torchia, Robert Wilson, with Deborah Chotner and Ellen G. Miles. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 248-252, color repro.
- Bruson, Jean-Marie, and Fischer, Diane P., eds. Paris 1900: Les Artistes Américains à l'Exposition Universelle. Exh. cat. Musée Carnavalet, Paris, 2001: 35, fig. 24 (not in the exhibition).
- Merrill, Linda, et al. After Whistler: The Artist and His Influence on American Painting. Exh. cat. High Museum of Art, Atlanta; The Detroit Institute of Arts. Atlanta, 2003: 136, fig. 92, 247 n. 63.