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La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (The Princess from the Land of Porcelain)

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Label Text

This painting, which hangs over the mantel 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. Here, the noted Victorian beauty Christina Spartali strikes a pose that recalls both the elongated figures depicted on Chinese blue and white porcelain and the graceful courtesans that appear in ukiyo-e prints.

Whistler never visited Asia, and his creative borrowing of eastern objects and influences was motivated by a desire to suggest the temporal and spatial distance of a foreign and therefore imaginary realm, rather than by an interest in Asian cultures per se.

The Princesse was purchased around 1867 by the shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, who hung it in his London 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 final result, of course, was Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room. After Leyland's death in 1892, the Princesse was purchased by the Glasgow collector William Burrell, who subsequently sold it to Charles Lang Freer in 1903, the year of Whistler's death.

That following year, Freer acquired the entire Peacock Room, and the Princess once again took her place in a realm of Asian ceramics—not porcelain, which Freer didn't care for, but earth-toned, often iridescent, glazed pottery and stoneware from Japan, China, Korea, Syria, and Iran. In 1923, the room and the Princesse were moved yet again, to the Freer Gallery of Art where the painting has presided over a changing array of Asian ceramics ever since. It, like the room in which it hangs, is an apt illustration of the Freer aesthetic, an imaginative, cosmopolitan representation of East-West harmony.

Object Name

Oil painting

Dated

1863-1865

Medium

Oil on canvas

Dimensions

HxW: 201.5 x 116.1 cm

Country

United States

Credit Line

Gift of Charles Lang Freer

Artist

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Title

La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (The Princess from the Land of Porcelain)

Object Number

F1903.91a-b

Freer Source

Sir William Burrell

Freer Source City

Glasgow

Freer Source Country

Scotland

Citation

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), "La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (The Princess from the Land of Porcelain)," in The Peacock Room, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Accession No. F1903.91a-b, Item #2, http://peacockroom.wayne.edu/items/show/2 (accessed September 26, 2017).