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Arrangement in White and Black
ca. 1876

James McNeill Whistler , (American, 1834-1903)


Oil on canvas
H: 191.4 W: 90.9 cm
United States

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1904.78a-b

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Whistler used musical titles for his paintings to direct attention away from the subject and toward the more transcendent elements of line and color. Yet, the presence of the sitter here is undeniable. The rhythm and spring of movement appear in every line of her body and throughout the folds of her gown. Painting his figure thinly, Whistler worked quickly with little or no alteration, a method resulting in a remarkably naturalistic work. It is the vibrant youth and beauty of Maud Franklin—the artist's longtime model and mistress—that endow the painting with its assertive and nonchalant charm.

Maud Franklin (1857-circa 1941) met Whistler when she was in her teens and Whistler in his forties. She lived with Whistler, bore him two daughters, and was his supportive partner during the most difficult years of his career. Delighting in Maud's grace, Whistler drew her in more than sixty works ranging from oils to lithographs. He showed her sleeping, sewing, reading, sick in bed, and in all her various moods and activities.

This painting, however, depicts her at her most vibrant, in a formfitting dress that reveals her pretty figure and light step. This apparent self-confidence would stand Maud in good stead when Whistler cast her off in 1888 in order to marry the widow of his friend, architect E.W. Godwin. She, however, went on to marry a rich New Yorker and thereafter lived a prosperous life in Paris and London.