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Sweet Silent Thought: Whistler's Interiors

August 20, 2011–Summer 2012
Freer Gallery of Art

In Victorian England in the nineteenth century, life was separated into gendered spheres. The masculine realm was often characterized by outward-directed activities of physical exertion, industry, and business. Women, on the other hand, were identified with the private world of imagination and self-reflection, as seen in this selection of prints by American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler. Images of private, enclosed spaces, inhabited by quiet, self-contained figures, recur from his earliest etchings in the mid-1850s to his later watercolors and lithographs. Family members, close friends, or the artist's current mistress almost always serve as the focus of these interior scenes. This sense of intimacy is underscored by the works' small scale, which compels the viewer to stand close and study the scene carefully. Whistler's interiors thus encourage us to retreat—like his subjects—into a realm of "sweet silent thought."

 

Detail from Harmony in Green and Rose

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