Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

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The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio)

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'The Artist in his Studio' (1889, Manchester Examiner). 1
  • 'Studio' (1892, Whistler). 2
  • "the 'Atelier' picture" (1893, D. C. Thomson). 3
  • 'An Interior' (1893, Society of Portrait Painters). 4
  • 'In the Studio' (1898, Goupil). 5
  • 'In the Studio' (1902, Whistler). 6
  • 'Whistler in his studio' (1905, ISSPG). 7
  • 'The Artist in his Studio' (1904, City of Bradford Exhibition). 8
  • 'Whistler in his Studio' (1980, YMSM). 9
  • 'The Artist in His Studio' (2015, Art Institute of Chicago).

The title 'Whistler in his Studio' was suggested in 1905 and 1980 to distinguish this painting from The Artist's Studio [YMSM 062]. However, although there is some doubt about the original title, an alternative title is now suggested, namely 'The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio)'.

Description


                    The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio), Art Institute of Chicago
The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio), Art Institute of Chicago

It was described by the artist:

' "In the Studio" - Three figures; portrait of Whistler standing holding brush in left hand, the female figure standing with back to spectator, in flesh coloured gown - like in "the Balcony", one female figure sitting on a sofa in corner of room.' 10

It shows a corner of Whistler's studio, in vertical format. The artist stands at right, looking at the viewer, holding a brush and palette and in the act of painting, though the easel and picture are out of the picture to right. Whistler wears a pale grey jacket, white shirt, short black cravat, darker grey trousers. At left is a white sofa with a brown-haired young woman in a white dress seated looking up at another woman. This woman has light brown hair, and is dressed in a pale pink-flesh-coloured robe that trails behind her; she holds a white fan up in front of her face, and stands turning away from the viewer.

Behind the sofa at left are four shelves of blue and white Chinese porcelain. High on the wall at upper left, just to right of the shelves, are three narrow picture frames or hanging scrolls. Behind Whistler is a large mirror, slightly tilted forward at the top and streakily reflecting the room; to its right, just to right of Whistler's head, is a small framed picture, possibly an etching or photograph. The walls are grey, the floor a light brown.

Site

According to Whistler's biographers, the Pennells, it was painted 'in the first house in Lindsey Row' (7 Lindsey Row). 11


                    Dining-room in Whistler's first house in Lindsey Row, photograph, Pennell 1921, f.p. 153
Dining-room in Whistler's first house in Lindsey Row, photograph, Pennell 1921, f.p. 153

The photograph reproduced above shows porcelain arranged on the wall in Lindsey Row. 12

Sitter

The woman on the sofa was Joanna Hiffernan (b. ca 1843-d.1886) .

The other was described by Whistler as the 'Japonaise'. 13 This model may have been Emelie 'Millie' Eyre Jones (1850-1920) , who was certainly posing in the following year. Sittings for Symphony in White, No. 3 [YMSM 061] probably overlapped with those for The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio), and both paintings include the studio sofa. The Pennells wrote, 'The two women most likely are the two models for Symphony in White, No. III., who have stopped posing.' 14 Thus the models are posing after posing as if not posing ...

Mary Glenn Perine (1822-1896) visited Whistler's mother Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881) at 2 Lindsay Row and described seeing a model, the wife of an 'Ethiopian minstrel', posing for Whistler in Chinese drapery. 15 This was possibly for The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio). Emilie Jones was married to the actor Frederick Henry Robson who was a 'black and white minstrel' though definitely not Ethiopian.

Originally the composition was intended to include three artists, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) , Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), and Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893). A man was originally painted leaning on the sofa, but whether that was Fantin-Latour or Moore is impossible to say.

Comments

D. Velázquez, Las Meninas, detail, photograph, GUL Whistler PH3/8
D. Velázquez, Las Meninas, detail, photograph, GUL Whistler PH3/8

Although he never saw the original, Whistler owned a photograph of a detail from Las Meninas by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), which may have had a profound influence on the studio compositions. 16

MacDonald discussed the two compositions:

'Whistler’s oil group portrait is often cited as homage to Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656 and 1657, Prado, Madrid). His pose, with palette and brush in hand, the flash of white from his shirt echoing the slash of white on Velázquez’s sleeve, the studio setting and mirror, the colour and interaction of the models, reinforce this assumption. However, it also referenced Chinese blue and white porcelain and Japanese dress placing the artist in an Aesthetic setting. The group represented a meeting of East and West, of the New World and the Old. It showed men in contemporary dress, the artist at work, and women relaxing, one in a European summer dress of muslin and the other dressed-up in a Japanese kimono, in a harmonious composition that emphasized the separation of the sexes.

... Such art historical references helped critics to place Whistler, the alien American, within the European artistic tradition. Whistler’s position vis-à-vis his famous predecessors – Velásquez and Rembrandt – could be read as admiring – that of the ‘follower’ – or ambitious – an attempt to compete, to show his competence or superiority. It was a dangerous practise, but it worked quite well for Whistler. His paintings were frequently compared to Velásquez, his etchings to Rembrandt.' 17

Notes:

1: Manchester Examiner, Manchester, 2 May 1889.

2: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

3: D. C. Thomson to Whistler, 4 February 1893, GUW #05770.

4: 3rd exhibition, Society of Portrait Painters, London, 1893 (cat. no. 183).

5: A Collection of Selected Works by Painters of the English, French & Dutch Schools, Goupil Gallery, London, 1898 (cat. no. 22).

6: Whistler to C. L. Freer, [June 1902], GUW #11699.

7: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 13).

8: City of Bradford Exhibition, Bradford, 1904 (cat. no. 135).

9: YMSM 1980 [more] , cat. no. 63.

10: Whistler to C. L. Freer, [June 1902], GUW #11699.

11: Pennell 1911 A [more] , p. 129.

12: Pennell 1921C [more] , repr. f.p. 153.

13: Whistler to Fantin-Latour, 16 August [1865], GUW #11477.

14: Pennell 1911 A [more] , p. 129.

15: [20 July 1868], Diary, Maryland Historical Society Library, Manuscripts Division, Baltimore, MD.

16: Albumen print, stamp of A. Giraudon, 15 rue Bonaparte, Paris, Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, Whistler PH3/8.

17: MacDonald 2015 [more] .

Last updated: 4th December 2020 by Margaret