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Arrangement in Black: Girl Reading | 1880/90 | James McNeill Whistler

Arrangement in Black: Girl Reading | 1880/90 | James McNeill Whistler

Arrangement in Black: Girl Reading | 1880/90 | James McNeill Whistler

woman reading in black.jpg

Would you believe the last time I did a Books in Art post was in February?! I've started a number of new series since then including Judge a Book by Its Cover and Let's Hear it for the Audiobook Narrators. For a while there I forgot about one of my favorite series (and one of the original series)...Books in Art! I've already gone through my schedule and added a Books in Art post each month in hopes that I'll be reminded to post these more regularly. One of my favorite things about this blog is how it combines my interests in art and literature. I certainly don't want to lose sight of that.

About the painting:

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So let's talk about this painting. Agh, I love it SO much. If you're like me, the first thing that strikes you is the color. Whistler used shades of black to compose this painting. You have to wonder....why? Black is often used to convey darkness, but this woman is reading. She couldn't possibly be reading in a room that dark. The woman is also dressed from head to toe in black and this painting was completed during a time when mourning attire was common. Is she in mourning? If so, who is she mourning? And what is she reading? There are so many questions that pop into my head when I see this painting.

But most of all, I just like it. I like how the woman is seated so casually. Slouching just a bit as if she wasn't expecting a visitor or as if she had been there for sometime, presumably lost in her book. I like the use of black, such an odd choice but it makes the painting really stand out in comparison to the other paintings I've done of books in art. Black is also one of my favorite colors to wear (nearly half of my wardrobe is black...no connection to the mourning attire mentioned previously) and to decorate with (I'm always drawn to black and white photographs and including accents of black in pillows or throws.)

What do you think? Do you like this painting? What do you think is happening?

About the artist:

James McNeill Whistler is probably best known for Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (1871), popularly known as Whistler's Mother, which is owned by Musée d'Orsay in Paris. It was on display at the Art Institute of Chicago in March of 2017 and I'm so glad I was able to see it at that time. 

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In the description next to the painting, it said "In 1863 Anna McNeill Whistler moved from the United States to London and joined her son James's household at 7 Lindsey Row, forcing him to relocate his then-mistress to a new home. In 1871 he asked his mother to pose for him initially conceiving of a standing portrait, but he changed the composition to a seated pose when she became fatigued. The portrait was one of the first works to demonstrate Whistler's mature style, which relied on large, flat masses of color and very thin applications of paint on a rough, textured canvas that emphasize the abstract qualities of the painting. Whistler considered this portrait to be one of his finest, remarking, "Yes--one does like to make one's mummy just as nice as possible."

arrangement in grey and black.png

I can't help but notice some of the similarities between the two paintings:

  • both are of women
  • both women are seated
  • both women are facing to the left of the canvas
  • both women are wearing black
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Kathleen Glassburn

Kathleen Glassburn