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The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine)
1863-1865

James McNeill Whistler , (American, 1834-1903)


Oil on canvas
H: 201.5 W: 116.1 cm
United States

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1903.91a-b

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Whistler's painting of Christine Spartali, a noted beauty of the 1860s is another in his series of clearly Western compositions that depict languid young women amid Oriental props. Later writers saw parallels between this work and Japanese images, such as woodblock prints by Utamaro, but the painting is just as firmly based upon 18th-century French chinoiserie. The Princesse is one of several early works for which preparatory sketches are known to have been used. One surviving sketch shows the artist blocking in the general composition and colors, but leaving out details of rug, screen and costume that were added to the final work. The spray of flowers at the left of the oil sketch were later eliminated. Whistler's decision isolated Miss Spartali's profile and increased the impact of her exotic visage. However, her father refused to purchase the work as a portrait of his daughter. Whistler was not willing to reduce the size of his signature for another potential purchaser, and the Pennells believed that this incident caused him to develop his butterfly cypher. However, the butterfly did not actually appear until several years later.