Red and Pink: La Petite Mephisto

Artist: James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Historical period(s)
probably 1884
Oil on wood panel
H x W: 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in)
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Oil painting

fan, United States, woman

To 1902
Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934), London, to 1902 [1]

From 1902 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Henry Studdy Theobald, London, in August 1902 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] Undated folder note sheet, Object file. See also Original Whistler List, Purchases from Theobald, pg. 1, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Henry Studdy Theobald (C.L. Freer source) 1847-1934
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


"Mephisto" is a diminutive for Mephistophiles, the name of the devil in the Faust story. Dressed in a diaphanous lilac pink gown with red stockings, "the little female devil" lies against a rich red couch silhouetted against an even darker red wall. The colors suggest a brothel, as does the provocative way in which the faceless she-devil grasps her bright red fan. The single-ended, curved-back, red sofa appears in several paintings Whistler completed in his London studio during the winter of 1884, but Whistler's treatment of it in this painting is exceptionally sketchy and abstract. To the left of the model, the welter of short red strokes fills the space where the high back of the sofa should be, but the lines are so abstract they almost beg to be read as a non-representational expression of feeling. Perhaps they express erotic arousal. More likely, they express an aesthetic arousal-Whistler's pleasure in the act of laying down paint.

Published References
  • Andrew McLaren Young, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer. The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler. Studies in British Art 2 vols. New Haven, 1980. vol. 2: pl. 173.
  • Kenneth Myers. Mr. Whistler's Gallery: Pictures at an 1884 Exhibition. Washington. cat. 36, p. 62.
  • David Park Curry. James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1984. p. 144, pl. 49.
  • Elisabeth Luther Cary. The Works of James McNeill Whistler: A Study., 1st ed. New York, 1907. cat. 14, p. 157.
  • Bernhard Sickert. Whistler. London and New York. cat. 145, p. 170.
Collection Area(s)
American Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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