Past Exhibition: Whistler, Women, and Fashion

Whistler, Women, and Fashion
April 22, 2003 to July 13, 2003
Full-length portrait of woman with her back turned and hands clasped behind her back, showing profile of face.  Colors are pale pink with ivory and gold accents.

Marking the centenary of the death of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), The Frick Collection presented Whistler, Women, and Fashion — the first in-depth exploration of the artist's lifelong involvement in fashion as an essential aspect of his work. The Frick Collection was the sole venue for the exhibition, which featured eight magnificent full-length oil portraits of women by Whistler and sixty other works, including oils, his finest prints and drawings, pastel studies for paintings, costume designs by the artist, and portrait etchings and watercolors, as well as fashion plates and period costumes.

The exhibition was organized by Susan Grace Galassi, Curator at The Frick Collection, and the leading Whistler scholar, Margaret F. MacDonald, Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Whistler Studies at the University of Glasgow; Aileen Ribeiro, Head of the History of Dress Section at the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London, was the costume consultant for the exhibition. The three scholars, joined by Patricia de Montfort, Research Fellow at the Centre for Whistler Studies, are the authors of a fully illustrated accompanying book published by Yale University Press. The publication is the first venture between art and dress history that places fashion at the center of a great artist's work. The book includes new biographical material about Whistler's sitters, among them artists, actresses, society women, and members of his family, and their roles in his life and work. Spanning the three central decades of the artist's career, the paintings, prints, drawings, and costumes illuminated Whistler's participation in the lively interchange between art and fashion in the second half of the nineteenth century. At the heart of the exhibition are ten oil portraits, eight of which will be displayed in the museum's Oval Room. Three stunning portraits from The Frick Collection are joined by works on loan from national and international collections, including the Tate Britain, London; the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

In connection with the exhibition, a one-day conference was held on June 7, 2003, to explore the role of costume in European art from the Renaissance to the end of the nineteenth century. At the Conference on Dress and Art nine speakers — art and dress historians among them — gave talks that focused on such artists as Holbein, Titian, Van Dyck, Velázquez, Gainsborough, David, and Whistler, all of whom are represented in The Frick Collection. This conference was made possible through the generosity of the Arthur Ross Foundation.

This exhibition was made possible through the generosity of The Henry Luce Foundation, The Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Howard Phipps Foundation, The Helen Clay Frick Foundation, Melvin R. Seiden in honor of Susan Grace Galassi, The Ahmanson Foundation, Joseph Koerner, and Raymond and Margaret Horowitz, with additional support from the Fellows of The Frick Collection. It was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

James McNeill Whistler, Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs. Frances Leyland, 1871–74, Oil on canvas, The Frick Collection.

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