Tag Archives: White

J. A. M. Whistler – Symphony in White no 2 (The Little White Girl)

16 Feb

It’s impossible not to love this painting; it has a meditative, dreamy aura, wistful lady wearing a beautifully painted white dress, and delicate pink flowers, hinting at Whistler’s appreciation of Japanese art and culture.

1864-james-abbot-mcneill-whistler-symphony-in-white-no-2-the-little-white-girlJames Abbot McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White no 2 (The Little White Girl), 1864

Model for this ‘little white girl’ was an Irish beauty Joanna Hiffernan, a muse, model and a lover not only to Whistler but to Gustave Courbet as well, most famously in his painting ‘Sleep.’ Whistler’s biographers wrote of her: “She was not only beautiful. She was intelligent, she was sympathetic. She gave Whistler the constant companionship he could not do without.” Here, in Symphony in White no 2, Whistler painted her leaning against the mantelpiece in their love nest; a house they shared in Lindsey Row in Chelsea. She’s holding a Japanese fan in her hand. It’s interesting to note the ring on her left hand, but they were not married. There’s something ethereal about her; dressed in white gown that touches the ground, with long hair and a sad look in her eyes; she seems melancholic and detached from everything at the same time, as if she’s not really here, but is just passing through life without touching it, not allowing the harshness of reality to taint that beautiful whiteness of her muslin dress. If you close your eyes, you can imagine her slowly and elegantly walking across the room, then standing by the fireplace, her small hand barely touching the mantelpiece, while the other gently holds a fan. She is a silent Victorian woman living on the border of dreams and reality, like Millais’ Mariana, wrapped in the loneliness of her birdcage, longing for the imagined excitement of the real life out there. Or not. Perhaps she’s so engulfed in the sweetness of her daydreams and contemplation and doesn’t even walk to live the ‘real life’. At the same time, she knows that ‘dreams always end, they don’t rise up just descend’*, and this thought is the source of the wistfulness of her gaze that Whistler has so beautifully captured.

Here we see the typical elements of Japanese culture that can be found in many 19th century paintings; pink flowers, a fan, porcelain vase. Influence of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, which were immensely popular at the time, is visible in the composition as well; you see how the picture looks like it’s cut on the ends, her wide sleeve on the left, pink azaleas at the bottom and her hand and the vase in the upper part of the painting. That’s something you don’t see in paintings of Academic Realism. Whistler is even said to have introduced Rossetti to Japanese art as a matter of fact.

Beautiful delicate pink azaleas are almost protruding into the composition, leaning their pink blossoms and delicate little leaves, as if they’re ready to listen to her sorrows and comfort her. ‘Don’t be sad, spring will soon come, and your woes will be gone‘, they seem to whisper. Joanna ignores them, her face turned away from the viewer. It’s the mirror which reveals the sadness and wistfulness of her gaze, and also the seascape that’s opposite the fireplace. She seems to be thinking:

I am weary of days and hours,

Blown buds of barren flowers,

Desires and dreams and powers,

And everything but sleep.” (Swinburne)

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the painting, besides the flowers, is her dress which is painted in soft, almost transparent brushstrokes. Its gentle, dreamy appeal is contrasted with the strict, geometrical line of the fireplace. White is the hardest colours to paint, but Whistler shows a complete mastery over it, and the painting deserves its title ‘symphony’, for it is indeed a symphony in whites. In one painting below, Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland, whose beauty arrives from the subtlety of colours, you’ll see that mastery of white again, and the dress seems to flow effortlessly, like a river, decorated with the flowers that also serve as an interior decoration; it’s hard to say where reality ends and dream start because the more I look at these gorgeous studies in white, the more I am drawn into this ethereal, delicate world that Whistler has created, using just his brush and colours, not magic.

James Abbot McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was an American artist, but after coming to England in 1859, he never returned to his homeland again, but instead divided his time between London and Paris, and nurtured friendships with other artists and writers on the each side of the Channel; Gaultier, Swinburne, Manet and Courbet to name a few. Whistler is famous for promoting ‘art for art’s sake philosophy’, and enraging Ruskin who emphasised the social, moralistic role of art. He was also known for giving his paintings musical names, such as ‘Symphony’ or ‘Nocturne’, which sometimes enraged the critics, but still fascinates the lovers of his art, myself included.

This painting, with Joanna’s ghost-like reflection in the mirror, inspired Swinburne to write these verses:

Glad, but not flushed with gladness,

Since joys go by;

Sad, but not bent with sadness,

Since sorrows die;

Deep in the gleaming glass

She sees all past things pass,

And all sweet life that was lie down and lie.

The critics have drawn a parallel between this painting and Ingres’ Portrait of Louise de Broglie, Countess d’Haussonville from 1845, which also has a lady standing by the mirror. Similar meditative mood, delicate whiteness, and touch of the East, can be found in many of Whistler’s paintings, here are a few:

1862-james-abbott-mcneill-whistler-symphony-in-white-no-1-the-white-girl-girl-is-joanne-hiffernanJames Abbott McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, 1862 (Note: model is Joanna again)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 - 1903) Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland, 1872-1873 oil on canvas 77 1/8 in. x 40 1/4 in. (195.9 cm x 102.24 cm) Henry Clay Frick Bequest. Accession number: 1916.1.133James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland, 1872-1873

1863-65-james-abbott-mcneill-whistler-le-princesse-du-pays-de-la-porcelaineJames Abbott McNeill Whistler, Le Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine, 1863-65

My interest in these paintings arose because of my longing for Spring, so here’s a beautiful haiku poem for the season that’s upon us. Spring, I am anxiously awaiting you, please come quickly!

In these spring days,
when tranquil light encompasses
the four directions,
why do the blossoms scatter
with such uneasy hearts?” (Ki no Tomonori, c. 850-c. 904)

Inspiration: Sad Veiled Brides

4 Feb

Sad veiled bride please be happy

Handsome groom, give her room

Loud, loutish lover treat her kindly

Though she needs you

More than she loves you…” (The Smiths – I Know It’s Over)

said-veiled-bride-22

She’d walk on broken glass for love
She thought burnt skin would please her lover
To keep love alive and lust beside
Kind people should never be treated like…

Empty arms and naked heart
The love she sought through faltering thought
Table for two, such a sweet delight
Whispers “I love you my darling” tonight…” (Manic Street Preachers – She Bathed Herself In A Bath of Bleach)

bride1907-jacques-doucet-wedding-veil-1sad-veiled-bride-1

lemony-snickets-17

1860s-the-bride-abraham-solomon

Foto: SMK Foto Statens Museum for Kunst Sølvgade 48-50 1307 København K DANMARK e-mail: foto@smk.dk www.smk.dk

1840s-the-poetess-josephine-stieler-nee-von-miller-as-bride-portrait-by-her-husband-joseph-stieler-their-son-karl-stieler-became-a-famous-author

lemony-snickets-22lemony-snickets-21lemony-snickets-261844. march wedding dress and day dress

1920s-wedding-bride-and-groom

lemony-snickets-181920s-wedding-dresses1920s-anita-page-in-a-wedding-dress

1920s-wedding-dress-pretty1861. wedding dresses, godey's ladies bookhelena bonham carter miss havishancorpse bride 4

1911-frederick-william-elwell-the-wedding-dress-reminds-me-of-jane-eyre1915-wedding-dress-lucile-british-1863-1935-british-silk-cotton-plastic-metal1907-jacques-doucet-wedding-veil-21871-princess-louise-on-her-wedding-day 1860-adelina-patti-by-franz-xaver-winterhalter 1860-elisabeth-sissi 1862-princess-alice-of-the-united-kingdom 1867-william-powell-frith-alexandra-of-denmark-princess-of-wales-1867 is-this-a-design-by-galliano-inspired-by-luisa-casati lily-cole-8 madame-reve-sasha-pivovarova-by-miles-aldridge-6

4X5 original

4X5 original

madame-reve-sasha-pivovarova-by-miles-aldridge-2 magnificent-excess-gemma-ward-for-vogue-italia-september-2005-by-mario-sorrenti veil-an-roses-macabreveil-and-roses-macabre-2jane-eyre-wedding-dress-and-a-veil jane-eyre-wedding-dress-5

Carl Holsøe – Gateway to Infinity

22 Jul

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe is a somewhat undervalued artist. His paintings aren’t really colourful or daring, his brushstrokes aren’t too decadent or passionate, his themes are already seen but there is something about these paintings that keeps puzzling me ever since that morning of 19th June. I remember it clearly; the rapture I felt because I’ve re-discovered some interesting artists, and full of enthusiasm I spent the entire morning half-mesmerised half-intrigued by Holsøe’s paintings, amongst other things. A month has passed, and these paintings continue to intrigue me.

1900s Carl Holsoe (Danish, 1863-1935) - Girl standing on a Balcony Carl Holsoe (Danish, 1863-1935) – Girl standing on a Balcony

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe was a Danish artist, famous for his interior scenes. A son of an architect, Carl attended Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. He was famous during his lifetime not only in Denmark, but also in other Scandinavian countries. His paintings are often seen as brilliant extensions of the works of the seventeenth century masters, Vermeer most notably.

Holsoe’s paintings all follow a similar pattern: they’re usually very light, radiating the simplicity and bourgeois tastes in furniture and decoration, women or children bathed in soft daylight coming through the windows, dark and serious mahogany chests, chairs or tables, soft lights curtains, and modest details such as books, teapots, picture frames, and flowers. These domestic interiors radiate serenity, peacefulness and mystery. Doors and windows play a great role in most of his paintings.

I thinks they’re something more than just doors; they are passage ways, a transition, connection between two opposites. Aldous Huxley wrote “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” Holsøe’s doors and windows suggest a new worlds outside the domestic comfort of his clean Scandinavian living rooms and corridors, but he leaves the viewer with only a hint for we do not know what wonders or troubles hide behind those wide white doors to unknown.

1900s Carl Holsoe - Interior with GardenCarl Holsoe – Interior with Garden

1900s Carl Holsoe 5Carl Holsoe – The Open Window

1900s Carl Holsoe 4

Holsøe places a major emphasis on the play of lights and shadows and he is very detailed in that aspect. Just notice how carefully and gently he painted those white curtains, white is also the hardest colours to paint, and the soft yellowish light peeking through the curtains. In some paintings, the painter gives us a hint of the sunny day outside, flowers and exuberant nature, while the others show a brown and dull scenery, possibly Autumn. In the last painting I’ve presented here, Holsoe again indulged himself with lights and shadows, and painted one of those calm days when the sky is not engulfed in threatening grey clouds but it’s not sunny either, and the light in the house takes greenish shades, especially against the wonderful white walls and doors.

1900s Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (Danish, 1863-1935) Interior Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (Danish, 1863-1935) Interior

1900s Carl Holsoe - Interior with a CelloCarl Holsoe – Interior with a Cello

The figures in his paintings are mostly women and children, but they’re unimportant in this context which we can assume by the way he painted them – very blurry, turning their back on the viewer. His women are engrossed in their own activities; they are shown reading books, writing letters or simply sitting by the window and looking outside, or waiting by the white doors in a greenish light of a serene day. Their face expressions, their thoughts or feelings are unknown to us for they are irrelevant in these paintings, and like the furniture their role is to beautify the interior and bring focus to a subject that matters – doors and windows. In the painting Interior with Garden Holsoe used an interesting composition: we see a window but only through the open doors.

1900s Carl Holsoe 8

1900s Carl Vilhelm Holsoe 1

1900s Carl Holsoe 6

But again that magic and uncertainty of the unknown puzzles me. What hides behind these windows? What is their purpose in all of these paintings? Maybe what lies behind these windows and doors is the infinity itself. Mysteries, secrets, and a gateway. William Blake said ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.