Arrangements in White and Red


  • Catherine Spooner


‘Arrangements in White and Red’ reflects on the relationship between Joanna Hiffernan (1839-1886) and James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) in the 1860s, a relationship that produced two of the most significant paintings of the era: Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl (1861-63) and Symphony in White No. 2: The Little White Girl (1864). Hiffernan’s contribution to Whistler’s work has undergone a major reassessment in recent years as feminist art scholarship has reappraised the role of the model in the creation of the artwork, bringing to wider attention the physical and aesthetic labour of women (and sometimes men) previously given the romanticized epithet of ‘muse’. In 2022, the Royal Academy of Arts London and National Gallery of Art Washington staged an exhibition that, for the first time, put a spotlight on Hiffernan’s role. Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan brought together the overwhelming majority of surviving art associated with the model and showed clearly for the first time the full extent of her contribution to nineteenth-century visual culture. In particular, Margaret F. MacDonald’s research, published in the book that accompanied the exhibition, uncovered new facts about her life and dispelled a number of myths.