When James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and Joanna Hiffernan (1839-1886) met in 1860, they began a close professional and personal relationship that lasted over two decades. Presenting some sixty works including paintings, drawings and prints, The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler explores their partnership and the iconic works of art resulting from their collaboration. Bringing together nearly every known depiction of Hiffernan, as well as relevant documents and letters, this exhibit explores who Hiffernan was, his partnership with Whistler, and his role in the creative process. The woman in white is on view July 3 through October 10, 2022, at the National Gallery’s East Building in Washington, DC.
Baptized in Limerick, Ireland, Joanna Hiffernan immigrated to London with her parents and siblings, where as Irish Catholics they experienced poverty and social prejudice in a class society. When they met in 1860, Hiffernan not only became Whistler’s main model, but also helped manage his studio and financial affairs. In 1866, Whistler gave her a power of attorney and made her his sole heiress in his will. In 1870, after Whistler fathered a child with Louisa Fanny Hanson, Hiffernan and his sister Agnes Singleton raised the boy, Charles (“Charlie”) James Whistler Hanson. The child became the main link between Hiffernan and Whistler in the 1870s and into the 1880s. In 1886, Hiffernan died of bronchitis after lifelong respiratory problems which may have been exacerbated by her previous exposure to toxic art materials while working in the studio.
Despite all the documents, letters and works of art that document Hiffernan’s life, there is still much to discover. Personal correspondence is rare, and no photographs of Hiffernan or artwork of her have yet been found. Showcasing what is known, the exhibit invites visitors to participate in Hiffernan’s reclaiming humanity by considering the essential mystery of who she was.
“This is the first exhibition to delve into how these exquisite depictions of Joanna Hiffernan were made, what they signify, who Hiffernan was, and the broader influence and resonance of Hiffernan’s collaboration with Whistler for Victorian culture in the late 19th century,” said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art. “We are deeply grateful to Professor Margaret F. MacDonald, the preeminent authority on Whistler’s art and life, for graciously agreeing to guest curate this presentation in collaboration with Ann Dumas and Charles Brock. to thank our lenders for their willingness to share their precious works of art and to the Terra Foundation for American Art for their support of the exhibition and the accompanying book.”
The exhibition was curated by Margaret F. MacDonald, Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Glasgow, in collaboration with Ann Dumas, Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts and Consultant Curator of European Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Charles Brock, Associate Curator of American and British Paintings at the National Gallery of Art.
The exhibition travels from the Royal Academy of Arts, London, to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, from July 3 to October 10, 2022.
Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1861–1863), one of the National Gallery’s most famous and popular works, is on display along with Whistler’s second and third “Symphony in White” paintings, for the first time in the United States. Featuring an anonymous subject – whom we identify as Joanna Hiffernan, an Irish Catholic woman with little or no status in British society – these works shifted the essence of modern art from sentimental storytelling and austere realism to abstraction: striking model could be.
In addition to these visual “symphonies”, the exhibition’s first gallery features Hiffernan in a variety of other roles and settings, ranging from a gritty, working-class environment (Wapping (1860-1864), named after a district on the banks of the Thames in London) to superbly appointed interiors where it is surrounded by fine examples of textiles, pottery and prints from the extensive collections of Asian art of Whistler.
In the second gallery, prints and drawings depict Hiffernan as Whistler would have encountered her in the shared spaces of their London studio and home. The intimate scale of these works on paper – originally intended to be portable – amplifies the personal and psychological dimensions of the couple’s relationship. Notable works include two striking drypoints: Jo (1861) and Tiredness (1863).
The paintings of women dressed in white in the third gallery were made in the Victorian era by European and American artists who influenced or were themselves directly inspired by Hiffernan and Whistler’s most important and controversial collaboration, Symphony in White, No 1: The White Girl. This gallery highlights not only how other artists incorporated the technical challenges of white paint into their work, but also some of the broader cultural associations the color held for Victorian audiences, fashion and spiritualism. perceptions of gender and race. Among the works displayed here are important paintings by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), and John Everett Millais (1829–1896). Symphony in white (1908) by Andrée Karpelès (1885-1956) stands out as the only portrait of a “woman in white” painted by a woman in this exhibition and is a particularly striking example of the omnipresent influence of the “Symphony in White” by Whistler.
The last gallery of the exhibition looks back at the history of the partnership between Hiffernan and Whistler. It includes three portraits of Hiffernan by Gustave Courbet (1819–1877), from when the three spent time together in the seaside village of Trouville, France, in the fall of 1865. A series of illustrations that Whistler and Hiffernan undertook in 1862. Featured in popular periodicals good words and Once a week, Hiffernan assumes various roles – a cotton mill worker, a tapestry weaver, a nun – posed as if in moments of anguish, doubt or peaceful introspection. These images suggest affinities between Hiffernan’s own experience and the plight of the women she portrays.
In addition to the artworks, letters and documents displayed in the final gallery shed light on the complex personal relationship between Whistler and Hiffernan. We see depictions of Hiffernan’s sisters Agnes and Ellen, Whistler’s son Charles, and the woman who supplanted Hiffernan as Whistler’s primary role model, Maud Franklin. Among the documents on display are letters from Whistler to Hiffernan, a legal document granting her power of attorney, and Whistler’s will naming her as his sole heir, items that highlight the key role Hiffernan played in their unconventional but enduring partnership.
Published with Yale University Press, this 232-page illustrated volume provides the first comprehensive account of Irish-born model Joanna Hiffernan’s partnership with American-born artist James McNeill Whistler at a time when he was forging a reputation as a to be one of the most innovative and influential artists. artists of his generation. A series of essays explain how the relationship between Hiffernan and Whistler overturned artistic conventions and highlights their interactions with contemporaries, including Gustave Courbet, for whom Hiffernan also modeled. This catalog traces their resonance for artists including Edgar Degas, Gustav Klimt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Singer Sargent, and includes new insights into the creation, marketing and cultural context of Whistler’s iconic works.
This book is edited and written by Margaret F. MacDonald, Emeritus Professor and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, with contributions from Charles Brock, Associate Curator of American and British Paintings at the National Gallery of Arts, Washington; Patricia de Montfort, Lecturer in Art History and the School of Culture and Creative Arts and Research Curator for Whistler Studies at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow; Ann Dumas, Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Consultant Curator of European Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Joanna Dunn, painting conservator at the National Gallery of Art, Washington; Grischka Petri, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow; Aileen Ribeiro, Emeritus Professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London; and Joyce H. Townsend, Senior Conservation Scientist at Tate, London, and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow.
The book is available for purchase from stores in the west and east buildings; shop.nga.gov; 800.697.9350; Where sh[email protected]