“The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler”

A book group especially for art enthusiasts.

January 20, 2022 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm At the Museum and virtually on Zoom

"The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler" by Margaret F. MacDonald

Welcome to Museum Reads, the Newport Art Museum’s Art-Themed book group for adults. We meet monthly, at the Museum and virtually, for discussion, and frequently are joined by the author.

The 2022 Museum Reads calendar begins with a fascinating look at the partnership of artist James McNeill Whistler and his chief model, Joanna Hiffernan, and the iconic works of art resulting from their life together.

In 1860 James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) and Joanna Hiffernan (1839–1886) met and began a significant professional and personal relationship. Hiffernan posed as a model for many of Whistler’s works, including his controversial Symphony in White paintings, a trilogy that fascinated and challenged viewers with its complex associations with sex and morality, class and fashion, academic and realist art, Victorian popular fiction, aestheticism and spiritualism. This luxuriously illustrated volume provides the first comprehensive account of Hiffernan’s partnership with Whistler throughout the 1860s and 1870s—a period when Whistler was forging a reputation as one of the most innovative and influential artists of his generation. A series of essays discusses how Hiffernan and Whistler overturned artistic conventions and sheds light on their interactions with contemporaries, including Gustave Courbet, for whom she also modeled. Packed with new insights into the creation, marketing, and cultural context of Whistler’s iconic works, this study also traces their resonance for his fellow artists, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edgar Degas, John Singer Sargent, and Gustav Klimt.  

We are delighted that author and curator Margaret F. MacDonald will join us in conversation via Zoom from Scotland! 

LINKS to the upcoming Exhibition The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler 
Royal Academy of Arts, London   (February 23–May 23, 2022)
National Gallery of Art, Washington  (July 3–October 10, 2022)

Museum Reads Notes:
Be sure to register to receive email updates and Zoom links.
For last minute registrations, please call the front desk for the Zoom link at 401-848-8200.

About the Author

Margaret F. MacDonald is a Professor Emerita of art history, School of Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, Scotland, and a recognized authority on American artist James McNeill Whistler and his famous mother, Anna Mathilda McNeill Whistler. MacDonald has written extensively on Whistler in books and catalogs, and has served as curator for multiple exhibitions of his work, including the upcoming traveling exhibition The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Others of her publications include James McNeill Whistler: Drawings, Pastels, and Watercolours: A Catalogue Raisonné with Yale University Press, James McNeill Whistler: The Etchings: A Catalogue Raisonné  and the wonderful Anna Mathilda McNeill Whistler, Whistler’s Mother’s Cook Book. MacDonald studied both fine art and art history at University, and continues to find drawing and painting (and her family) essential to life.

Top image: James McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White No. 3, 1865-7, Oil on canvas, 20.2 × 30.3 inches, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham.

This event is made possible by your support of the Annual Fund.