The White Symphony: Three Girls, 1867

James MacNeill Whistler, a 19th-century American painter who lived and worked in England, was known for his progressive style and unique color compositions. In the late 1860s, while working on his great unfinished masterpiece The White Symphony: Three Girls, Whistler fixated on variations of group scenes of women outdoors. The imprecise riots of form and color that define these studies are fascinating insights into Whistler’s creative process, and the fusion that was taking place in his infatuation with two types of clothing: white muslin dresses and Japanese kimonos.

The formerly distinct garments merge into a tousled assemblage of fabrics, from pure white to colorfully patterned, swirling around bodies. The flexible, curving figures recline, sit, stand, and imply movement, but without faces or much definition of body. They are essentially clothes personified, who behave as humans would but in no particular location. With their exotic accessories and voluminous vibrant textiles the location might be an exotic one; but just as quickly the scenes seem to be English women spending leisure time outside in boats and by the sea, with parasols.

Or, they might come from my dreams of the summer, ones I will make a reality by mixing breezy whites with colorful prints.

Symphony in Red and White, 1868

Variation in Blue and Green, 1868

Symphony in Blue and Pink, 1870

P.S. Happy Mother’s Day!

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother, 1871
also known as “Whistler’s Mother”


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