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Audio Stop 880

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A young woman with pale white skin, wearing a long, flowing white dress, stands in front of a white curtain in this full-length, vertical portrait. Her red hair cascades down over and behind her shoulders. She looks to our left with green eyes, her pink, full lips closed. Her dress has puffed shoulders above a white-on-white striped pattern on the long sleeves. She stands on an animal pelt; it is not clear whether it is a wolf or a bear. The pelt spans the width of the painting and overlaps a blue patterned carpet. The animal’s mouth gapes to show sharp teeth and its glassy eyes are wide open—and it seems to look at us. The woman holds a white lily by her side in her left hand, while yellow and purple pansies lie scattered on the pelt.

James McNeill Whistler

Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, 1862

Not On View

In this painting, James McNeill Whistler used variations of white pigment to create interesting spatial and formal relationships. By limiting his palette, minimizing tonal contrast, and sharply skewing the perspective, he flattened forms and emphasized their abstract patterns. This dramatic compositional approach reflects the influence of Japanese prints, which were becoming well known in Paris as international trade increased. Whistler was more interested in creating an abstract design than in capturing an exact likeness of the model, his lover Joanna Hiffernan. His radical espousal of a purely aesthetic orientation and the creation of “art for art’s sake” became a rallying cry of modernism.

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