James McNeill Whistler , (American, 1834-1903)
Oil on wood panel
H: 50.1 W: 68.5 cm
Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1904.75a
Although The Golden Screen is in some ways a conventional Victorian painting, the model wears a Japanese costume and is seated on the floor like a courtesan. The composition is even more radical than the pose, considering the prevailing pictorial style: to Western eyes, the picture appears full of spatial puzzles, with a lacquer box that looks out of perspective and a folding screen that seems to float above a tilted floor. Whistler's concern was not to create a convincing illusion of space but to arrange shapes and colors like the patterns painted on the golden screen. Moreover, in documenting his collection, Whistler may have appreciated the typically Japanese means of structuring pictorial space, in which every object is shown in fuller dimension than is possible with Western perspective.
Whistler designed the frame and decorated it with Asian motifs, including badges of palm leaves and paulownia blossoms, in imitation of Japanese family crests.