The Lost Symphony: Whistler & the Perfection of Art

Whistler’s Working Methods

Challenged by Leyland’s important commission, Whistler undertook a grueling course of self-education in drawing and composition to make up for the basic art studies he lacked. In dozens of sketches he studied live models in various poses. He was also inspired by a wide range of sources, from classical Greek sculpture to Japanese woodblock prints. Whistler benefited from the example of his close friend, the English painter Albert Moore (1841–1893). Moore relied on preparatory drawings and oil sketches to rehearse and refine every element of a painting before setting brush on canvas. Meticulous preparation enabled Moore to paint with brisk confidence and total certainty, qualities Whistler knew his own labored paintings lacked. The American artist soon complained of the tedium and expense of drawing from live models all day long, but he expected to reap great rewards from his extraordinary investment of time and effort. “The results of the education I have been giving myself these two years and more,” he assured a friend in 1869, “will show themselves in the time gained in my future work.”

I had a large picture of three figures nearly life size fully underway—indeed far advanced towards completion—the owner delighted—and everyone highly pleased with it—except myself—Instead of going on with it as it was, I wiped it clean out! scraped it off the canvass and put it aside . . . and now I expect shortly to begin it all over again.

—Whistler, 1879

A Picture is finished when all trace of the means used to bring about the end has disappeared. . . . Work alone will efface the footsteps of work.

—Whistler, 1884

Image Gallery

A MusicianPomegranatesStanding Nude (Venus)Standing NudeDraped Female FigureAnnabel LeeMorning GloriesA Japanese WomanThree Female FiguresCrouching Figure: Study for The White Symphony: Three Girls




The White Symphony: Three Girls