Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Princess from the Land of Porcelain 1863 1865 James McNeill Whistler

La Princesse du pays de la porcelain (The Princess from the Land of Porcelain), which hangs in the Peacock Room, was part of a series of costume pictures undertaken by Whistler in mid-1860s in which western models appear in Asian dress, surrounded by Chinese and Japanese objects from Whistler's own collections of porcelain, lacquer, fans, and painted screens. Whistler's creative borrowing of Asian objects and influences was a way to suggest the temporal and spatial distance of a purely imaginary realm. Here, the noted Victorian beauty Christina Spartali strikes a pose that recalls both the elongated figures depicted on Chinese Kangxi porcelain and the graceful courtesans that appear in ukiyo-e prints. The Princesse, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1865, was purchased around 1867 by the shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, who hung it in his dining room, where he also displayed his extensive collection of Kangxi porcelain. Whistler suggested some changes to the color scheme of the room which would, he told Leyland, better harmonize with the palette of the Princesse. The result was Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, which Whistler completed in 1877. Later, in 1903, Charles Lang Freer purchased the Princesse and, the following year, acquired the entire Peacock Room, where Whistler's Princesse has presided over a changing array of Asian ceramics ever since. It, like the room in which it hangs, embodies the Freer aesthetic: an imaginative, cosmopolitan representation of East-West harmony, an idea, as the American critic Royal Cortissoz noted in 1903, "as far removed from the joys and troubles of mere humanity as so many pieces of Oriental porcelain."