c. 1876-78; Oil on canvas, 194 x 93 cm; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
A woman standing, depicted in profile in subtle tints of bluish-grey, brown, ochre and yellow. James McNeill Whistler painted this work around 1876-78. His lover, Maud Franklin, was the artist's model. Whistler painted her full-length, set against a neutral background, evidently applying the paint with brisk strokes of the brush. For Whistler it was not so much a question of accurately portraying his models, as of creating a balanced composition of colours and forms. He would often call his paintings a 'Harmony' or - as here - an 'Arrangement'. The subtitle Whistler gave to the work is a reference to the tragic heroine created by Walter Scott: Effie Deans. The artist incorporated an appropriate quotation from the book in the painting, bottom left.
Effie Deans is one of the central characters in The Heart of Midlothian, a novel by Sir Walter Scott, written in 1818. Effie had been imprisoned on a false charge: accused of having killed her illegitimate child. When an angry crowd stormed the goal, she had an opportunity to escape. But Effie decided to stay. Prison seemed a better prospect than a life of freedom with a tarnished reputation.
At the time Whistler painted this portrait a play based on the story of Effie Deans was running at the Albion Theatre in London. Whistler may well have seen the play and been inspired by Effie's tragic fate.
The text in the painting is a quotation from
The Heart of Midlothian:
...she sunk her head upon her hand and remained seemingly unconscious
as a statue.
The woman's personality and posture reflect the sentiment of the quotation.
Whistler added the text some years after completing the picture at
the buyer's request.
Credits: The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.