James McNeil Whistler

A couple of weeks ago, we went into Washington, D.C. to the National Gallery of Art.  We just went through the permanent collection, pointing out highlights to our companion who had never been to the museum.  Every time I return to the National Gallery, something rises to importance for me in a new way.  This time, it was these two portraits by Whistler:


(Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian (above top) and Symphony in White No. 1 (above) by James McNeil Whistler

I had just finished reading a book about how fashion influenced Whistler.  A leader in the Aesthetic Movement with the credo “art for art’s sake,” Whistler believed in beauty as the goal of art.  He gave careful consideration to the styles, materials, and colors of his subjects’ dress for his portrait paintings.  The trend in décor was to have light yellow rooms, so he often asked the women he painted to dress in black and white so that they would contrast pleasingly.  At the National Gallery, these two portraits hang in an appropriately light yellow room.