Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts

The exhibition, featuring Whistler's three Symphony in White paintings, opens on the 26th February

James Abbott McNeill Whistler_Symphony in White_No1TheWhite Girl1862

Many of the works by American artist James McNeill Whistler feature the red-haired figure of celebrated Irish beauty Joanna Hiffernan, and in this rich exhibition, the Royal Academy explores her life and role as a friend, model, lover and collaborator.

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Her close professional and personal relationship with the artist lasted for two decades, yet little about her influence in his life has been explored – until now.

Royal Academy exhibition
James McNeill Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, 1862, featuring his muse
Joanna Hiffernan

This exhibition brings together 70 works, including portraits of Hiffernan, captured in avant-garde paintings, prints and drawings that challenged cultural norms and established Whistler as one of the most influential artists of the late 19th century.

A key highlight will be Whistler’s three Symphony in White paintings, which inspired a series of paintings portraying the ‘woman in white’.

Despite many rejections for his work Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862) – including from the 1862 Royal Academy of Arts exhibition that he had specifically painted it for – Whistler won considerable success in Paris when it was shown in 1863 at the Salon des Refusés, a protest exhibition sanctioned by Emperor Napoleon III.

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The exhibition also explores works by Courbet, who painted Hiffernan when he and Whistler worked together in Normandy, and concludes with paintings by Millais, Klimt and other artists who were inspired by Whistler’s Symphony in White.