MacDonald discussed the two compositions:
'Whistler’s oil group portrait is often cited as homage to Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656- 1657, Prado, Madrid). His pose, with palette and brush in hand, the flash of white from his shirt echoing the slash of white on Velázquez’s sleeve, the studio setting and mirror, the colour and interaction of the models, reinforce this assumption. However, it also referenced Chinese blue and white porcelain and Japanese dress placing the artist in an Aesthetic setting. The group represented a meeting of East and West, of the New World and the Old. It showed men in contemporary dress, the artist at work, and women relaxing, one in a European summer dress of muslin and the other dressed-up in a Japanese kimono, in a harmonious composition that emphasized the separation of the sexes.
... Such art historical references helped critics to place Whistler, the alien American, within the European artistic tradition. Whistler’s position vis-à-vis his famous predecessors - Velásquez and Rembrandt – could be read as admiring – that of the ‘follower’ – or ambitious – an attempt to compete, to show his competence or superiority. It was a dangerous practise, but it worked quite well for Whistler. His paintings were frequently compared to Velásquez, his etchings to Rembrandt.' 1
The Artist's Studio [YMSM 062] and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) [YMSM 063] were preliminary studies for a much larger picture that Whistler intended to paint for the Salon of 1866. He described it in his letter to Fantin-Latour of 16 August 1865:
'… j'en ai fait une esquisse qui est bigrement bien … les couleurs choisies sont charmantes. moi en gris clair - la robe blanche de Jo - la robe couleur de chair de la Japonaise (vue de dos) toi et Moore en noir - le fond de l'atelier gris - c'est en hauteur, et aura à peu près dix pieds de haut, sur six ou sept de large.' 2
Translation: '... I have done a sketch of it which is really good ... the colours I have chosen are charming - Me in light grey - Jo's white dress - the flesh-coloured dress of the Japanese girl (seen from behind) you and Moore in black - the studio background grey - It's upright, and will be about ten feet high, and six or seven wide.'
According to Sir Hugh Lane, Whistler liked The Artist's Studio [YMSM 062] 'as a sketch, and eventually painted Mr Freshfield's picture [The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) [YMSM 063]] from it.' 3 However, both are clearly unfinished, and there is no way to tell which came first. 4
In their biography of Whistler, the Pennells comment:
'He holds the small palette he sometimes used with raised edges to keep the liquid colour from running off, he wears the long-sleeved white waistcoat in which he worked, and he painted from the reflection in the mirror, for his brush is in his left hand.' 5
The palette detail is more obvious in The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) [YMSM 063] than in the painting under discussion, The Artist's Studio [YMSM 062]. There are signs of alterations in both.
The Artist's Studio is rather more loosely handled on the women's dresses, but the level of finish on Whistler's head is similar to that in The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio). The Dublin City Gallery website comments: 'There is a sense of immediacy and spontaneity to this intimate scene in the thin, gestural application of paint.' 6
The Artist's Studio is much darker than The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) [YMSM 063] and it is possible that it has darkened.
4: See MacDonald, Margaret F., Joanna Dunn, and Joyce H. Townsend, 'Painting Joanna Hiffernan', in Margaret F. MacDonald (ed.), The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and Washington, 2020, pp. 33-45.
Last updated: 1st December 2020 by Margaret