The American-born Whistler traveled widely—from Russia to Venice to Chile, far from his place of birth in Lowell, Massachusetts. He was active mostly in London, where he painted portraits of wealthy patrons and, at times, scandalous social figures, like some in this room. These portraits reflect his interest in thinking about painting like a musical composition, putting together forms and colors to compose a harmonious whole. Their titles reflect this: he called his portraits “arrangements,” “nocturnes,” “harmonies,” “symphonies.”
Whistler was also inspired by Japanese prints, incorporating into his paintings some of the prints’ flattening, layering effects. He also adopted a butterfly monogram in imitation of Japanese artists who signed their works this way. Look for Whistler’s butterfly in the paintings as well as on the frame he designed for his portrait of Frances Leyland.