Published: February 12, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. – James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) is best known for his large oil paintings and for the flamboyant blue-and-green “Peacock Room” – on view at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art (Jefferson Drive and 12th Street SW) – but he also created many images of female nudes.
Thirty-five of the most beautiful and important of these works will be included in a new temporary exhibition titled “” on view at the Freer from April 21 to January 25, 2003.
Part of a continuing series of thematic exhibitions focusing on Whistler’s works, “” will be installed in the ground-floor gallery, next to the Freer shop.
Included are etchings, lithographs, pastels, watercolors, and oil paintings. The focal point of the exhibition is “Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Little Blue Girl.” Commissioned by Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), founder of the Freer Gallery, “The Little Blue Girl” is the largest and most important of . The Freer Gallery of Art has the most complete collection of in the world.
Until the mid-Nineteenth Century, artists who showed nude figures generally evoked mythology or history or exotic locales to evade cultural strictures against public nudity. Whistler almost never did this – he did not “justify” nudity by evoking Greek goddesses or placing his nudes in fantastic harems. Instead, almost all his nudes show female models in undefined spaces or in the artist’s studio. The realism of was a new phenomenon, expressing the emergence of new attitudes toward public nudity, art, the female form and gender.
Whistler’s first significant nudes date to the early 1870s and, like those of his contemporaries, were inspired by lightly draped Greek statuary. Whistler habitually sketched the body first, later veiling it with a separately applied cloth overlay. Most of these early nudes, such as “Morning Glories” (circa 1871-1873) were drawings in chalk and thinly applied pastel on brown paper. Executed as preparatory sketches for never completed oil paintings, they were not exhibited until late in the expatriate American artist’s career.
Whistler returned to the subject of the nude in 1884, creating watercolors, pastels, etchings, lithographs and oils of professional models posed in his studio or undefined spaces. Whistler continued to focus on the nude until his death in 1903.
Although many, like “The Little Nude Model, Reading” (circa 1889-1890) and “Woman Holding a Child” (circa 1891-93) were realistic scenes of women at rest, others, like “La Danseuse: A Study of the Nude,” (circa 1891) are erotically charged.
The Freer and Sackler galleries together form the National Museum of Asian Art for the United States. The Freer Gallery of Art also houses a major collection of late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century American art. Hours are 10 am to 5:30 pm daily. Admission is free. For information call 202-357-2700.
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