Nov 28, 2010

This is Jo.

She's a challenge doll, created to answer the Inspired by the Masters ADO challenge.  I chose James Whistlers' "Symphony in White No. 1"--which he had originally called The White Girl--as my inspirational masterpiece.

The painting was completed in 1862, but not well received, finally gaining entry into the Salon des Refusés, an exhibition held in Paris in 1863 to show work that had been refused by the selection committee of the official Salon. "Symphony" was in good company, however: Manet, Cézanne, and Camille Pissarro, were among other major artists represented at the exhibition. Despite its original aura of ridicule, the Salon des Refusés was a starting point for artists who began to ignore Napoleon's blessings to organize their own exhibitions, establishing 1863 as the accepted beginning of modern painting.

The model was Joanna Hiffernan, Whistler's mistress.  Given an era in which an unmarried mistress modeling for her lover in the nude was considered little better than a prostitute, Jo called herself Mrs. Abbott to better help him sell his paintings.  The vacant expression and stiff pose of the girl in the painting, resplendent in gauzy white wedding lace, fostered quite a number of interesting--and erroneous--interpretations of the painting.  Mr. Whistler had conducted an exercise in color and tone, an example of Art for Art's Sake.

Reading about her, the reactions to the painting, and the history of her modeling for other artists, I couldn't help but find inspiration in Jo for a doll.  Grateful that the ADO challenge guidelines allowed for interpretations rather than slavish copies, I let Jo develop as she saw fit, and the result seems to mock everything about the era--the art world, the hypocrisy of societal mores, even her own place in Whistler's life.    
In response to the irony of Jo's story, I began with a beer bottle weighted with Plaster of Paris.  Paper clay over foil and wire armatures made up the head, upper torso, hands and arms.  I covered the body and head with blank newsprint, adding commentary snippets from a racy romance novel.  (My favorite is the word 'family': Jo helped to raise Whistler's illegitimate son by another woman.)  Washes of color--all the different tones of "white"--cover the decoupage of papers, antiqued overall.  The arms are dressed in the satin, lace and ribbon of a bride...what I felt to be Jo's tongue in cheek response the 'bride after her wedding night' interpretation of the painting.

When I finished, and said so, Phil was shocked.  "You're not going to give her any hair?"  Joanna Hiffernan was famous for her Irish beauty and wavy auburn tresses.  But I liked the in-your-face attitude of this Jo as she was, with her private smile and bright green feather. 


  1. Great piece and thanks for sharing all the history about this painting I hadn't been exposed to before. I haven't signed up for this challenge but I think I should!

  2. Thanks for visiting! The challenge was definitely challenging for me because I was vastly ignorant about the "Masters"...I only name a few. If nothing else, it made me get out of my comfort zone.


Thank you very much for stopping by.