The Frick Collection
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, 1866, oil on canvas, The Frick Collection
Special Exhibition

Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean
Podcast | Video

Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland
Podcast | Video

Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder
Podcast | Video

Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux
Podcast | Video

Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac
Podcast | Video

Portraits, Pastels, Prints: Whistler in The Frick Collection 
June 2 through August 23, 2009

The Paintings

The five paintings on display span nearly three decades of Whistler’s career, from his trip to Chile in 1866 to his move from London to Paris as a mature artist and married man in the early 1890s. The ensemble represents the two chief genres in which he worked — portraiture and landscape — and demonstrates the development of his artistic concerns throughout his career. The pictures bear his characteristic titles, which in their use of such terms as “Symphony,” “Arrangement,” and “Harmony” invoke the abstract nature of music, regarded in the nineteenth century as the purest of art forms. With them, Whistler asserted the precedence of formal elements over content. Yet the images vividly convey the essence of their subjects, whether the calming rhythms of ocean waves under an overcast sky or the willful flair of Lady Meux. These works demonstrate that his aesthetic and representational aims were in fact often mutually reinforcing. The butterfly monogram he developed from his initials and began to use in place of a signature in the late 1860s underscores this dual pursuit.

Like only a few other artists represented in the collection, Whistler was a contemporary of Henry Clay Frick, though the collector would not acquire any of his work until more than a decade after the artist’s death. These paintings, purchased by Frick between 1914 and 1919, reveal Whistler’s admiration for many of the same masters — Velázquez, Hals, Van Dyck, and Gainsborough, among them — esteemed by the collector. Today, as then, Whistler’s works appeal as declarations of a personal idiom achieved through the synthesis of Eastern and Western conventions, embrace of avant-garde ideals, and continuity with the grand tradition of European art.