barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


James McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903)

Symphony in White, No.III

London, about 1865-7

Oil on canvas

 

Whistler inscribed a musical title on this canvas to describe a painting of two young women dressed in white.

The artist chose the term ‘Symphony’ to emphasise to visitors to the Royal Academy’s exhibition in 1867 that it was purely a study in colour.  Whistler felt that Victorian artists were distracted by a love of narrative from their proper artistic concern with form and colour.  Details such as the flowers were therefore added only for their decorative qualities.  However, because the models are identifiable – the artist’s mistress Joanna Hiffernan is to the left – other elements arguably do intrude.

 

Purchased 1939 (No.39.24)