Royal Academy of Arts brings together nearly all of James Abbott McNeill Whistler's depictions of Joanna Hiffernan

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Royal Academy of Arts brings together nearly all of James Abbott McNeill Whistler's depictions of Joanna Hiffernan
Installation view of the ‘Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (26 February - 22 May 2022). Photo: © Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry. This exhibition is organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London and by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

LONDON.- Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan is the first exhibition to examine the important role played by the Irish-born model Joanna Hiffernan (1839?–1886) in establishing the reputation of the American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) as one of the most influential artists of the late 19th century. Consisting of over 70 works, the exhibition brings together nearly all of Whistler’s depictions of Hiffernan, and includes paintings, prints, drawings, and related art works and ephemera. Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan explores the pair’s professional and personal relationship over more than 20 years and examines how the artwork resulting from their collaboration has influenced and resonated with artists into the 20th century.

The exhibition is arranged thematically in six sections. London in the 1860s features depictions of London including Whistler’s Wapping, 1860-64 (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and other paintings from the 1850s and 1860s by British artists that portray the theme of the woman in white in various archetypal guises, including Dante Gabrielle Rosetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domine! [The Annunciation], 1849-50, (Tate, UK).

The following section, Symphonies in White, is devoted to the artistic collaboration between Whistler and Hiffernan in the 1860s. A key highlight is Whistler’s three Symphony in White paintings that are rarely shown together: Symphony in White, No. I: The White Girl, 1862, (National Gallery of Art, Washington), Symphony in White, No.II: The Little White Girl, 1864, (Tate, UK) and Symphony in White, No. III, 1865-67, (Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham). This section also includes other important images of Hiffernan from 1860 to 1866, the period when the young American artist was forging a reputation as one of the most innovative artists of his generation.

Whistler and Hiffernan: The Prints demonstrates Whistler’s skills as a printmaker, especially in his exquisitely nuanced images of Hiffernan. The following section examines the influence of Japonisme on Whistler, in works such as his Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks, 1864, (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia), which shows Hiffernan wearing a kimono and surrounded with Asian objects from Whistler’s collection. Items from Whistler’s porcelain collection and Woodblock prints such as The Banks of the Sumida River, 1857, by Utagawa Hiroshige (Victoria and Albert Museum) are also included.

Whistler and Courbet presents the works of Gustave Courbet, who painted Hiffernan when she and Whistler joined Courbet in 1865 in Trouville, Normandy. Whistler’s restrained, atmospheric seascapes are contrasted with Courbet’s more robust ‘paysages de mer’. Several of Courbet’s depictions of Hiffernan are also presented, including Jo, La Belle Irlandaise, 1865–66, (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Whistler and Hiffernan’s legacy is revealed through the final section entitled Women in White, which includes paintings from the late 1860s until just after the turn of the century by a group of international artists, many of whom knew Whistler and were directly influenced by his revolutionary treatment of the theme. Highlights include John Everett Millais’ The Somnambulist, 1871, (Private Collection), Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Hermine Gallia, 1904, (National Gallery, London) and Andrée Karpelés’ Symphonie en blanc, 1908, (Musée Des Beaux-Arts De Nantes, Nantes).

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