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Black chalk and pastel
Support: Brown paper
Sheet: 27.9 x 17.6 cm (11 x 6 15/16 in.); Secondary Support: 38.5 x 28.9 cm (15 3/16 x 11 3/8 in.)
Gift of Mrs. Henry A. Everett for the Dorothy Burnham Everett Memorial Collection 1933.222.a
In 1872 Whistler was commissioned to contribute two designs to complete the decorative scheme of 35 monumental portrait mosaics installed in the south court of the South Kensington Museum in London (now the Victoria and Albert Museum). A celebration of the arts, the mosaics represented male artists throughout history; Whistler’s two designs attempted to correct the gender imbalance. His subjects were a woman at a spindle and a Japanese woman painting a fan. Here, a brush is poised in the figure’s right hand—notice the sharp diagonal line above the orange butterfly—as she pauses to contemplate the fan she is painting. The commission went unfulfilled, and all that survives is this pastel study.
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