James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903)
In the second half of the 19th century many Europeans were wildly enthusiastic about Japanese art, including Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The latter added many Japanese props to his early portraits. He understood his pictures as arrangements of colors which through the use of a few, finely tuned color tones achieve a harmony of the stringent, flat composition. The painting in the Clemens Sels Museum Neuss is a high-quality example of Japonisme. In terms of composition and theme the painting has a close proximity to the work of Whistler. It is divided into two halves: seen in profile standing on the left is the admirer – or possibly collector – of Japanese art. On the right a Japanese color woodcut with a depiction of an actor is prominently displayed on a beige wall. The identity of the artist is unknown so far. The similarity of the composition to Whistler’s famous 1871 picture of his mother entitled “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) suggests a familiarity with Whistler’s work. For that reason the painter of the work in Neuss is believed to be a member of Whistler’s closer circle.