Sunday, March 23, 2014

Heavy with Lightness

About this time of year, the trees float, their branches
disappear, blossoms from head to toe, 'Symphony
in White Number One'. Bare, stark, jagged turns
lithe, bright, ethereal. Winter's heavy white gives way
to spring's delicate hope, fluttering. Blinding erasure, sun caught
in your eyes staring up, enchanted, heavy with lightness.

James McNeill Whistler, 'Symphony in White No. 1', 1861-62.
Oil on canvas, 215 x 108 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

From National Gallery of Art website:

When Whistler submitted The White Girl to the Paris Salon in 1863, the tradition–bound jury refused to show the work. Napoleon III invited avant–garde artists who had been denied official space to show their paintings in a "Salon des Refus├ęs," an exhibition that triggered enormous controversy. Whistler's work met with severe public derision, but a number of artists and critics praised his entry. In the Gazette des Beaux–Arts, Paul Manz referred to it as a "symphony in white," noting a musical correlation to Whistler's paintings that the artist himself would address in the early 1870s, when he retitled a number of works "Nocturne," "Arrangement," "Harmony," and "Symphony."

Whistler used variations of white pigment to create interesting spatial and formal relationships. By limiting his palette, minimizing tonal contrast, and sharply skewing the perspective, he flattened forms and emphasized their abstract patterns. This dramatic compositional approach reflects the influence of Japanese prints, which were becoming well known in Paris as international trade increased. 

Clearly, Whistler was more interested in creating an abstract design than in capturing an exact likeness of the model, his mistress Joanna Hiffernan. His radical espousal of purely aesthetic orientation and the creation of "art for art's sake" became a virtual rallying cry of modernism.

1 comment:

ewa monika zebrowski said...

Branches of spring
Laden with blossoms
The promise of new