Saturday, March 5, 2016

This is an exhibition about a painting that does not exist.

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through May 30, 2016

Although the Freer is shut until some time in 2017, items related to the Peacock Room are still on display at the Sackler.  On sublevel 1, the "Filthy Lucre" show is on, and one part of that is devoted to Whistler's "Lost Symphony."

Whistler (who comes off as a nut job in this show) had agreed to create a painting for Frederick Leyland, his then patron, that would be a symphony in white.  He intended to incorporate both classical Greek and Asian elements in a work that would involve three women.  Whistler worked on this piece for ten years, but was never satisfied with the result.  He was striving for perfection, and one of the things I've learned in my life is that striving for perfection is a one way ticket to the madhouse.

Finally, Whistler and Leyland quarreled over the payment the artist was due for the Peacock Room, and Whistler destroyed the painting that he had intended to hang opposite his "Princess in the Land of Porcelain."  The only things left out of all his labor are a fragment of the painting, showing a young woman in a diaphanous gown, and the frame he created to house the finished work.

The fragment is lovely, and one can only assume that the finished painting would have been a seminal work, had it been completed.  A sad loss for art lovers.  The frame is on display twice in this show: once in a modern copy, hung in the horizontal orientation that would have been used in the lost painting and then the original frame is on display, in a vertical orientation and encasing Whistler's scathing portrait of Leyland, entitled "The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre."  Note the spelling - it's a play on words; Leyland had a fondness for frilled shirts.

I very much enjoyed the show and recommend it highly.  Whistler, however, comes off quite badly as a person.  As much as I like his art, he sounds like an absolute drama queen.  Not the sort of person I'd want to live or do business with.

An added bonus is that "The Princess in the Land of Porcelain" is on display in the "Filthy Lucre" room.  You can get quite close up to it, which you can't in the Freer (it's displayed over the fireplace and there's a barrier keeping you back a few paces); it's worth going over to the Sackler just to see that.

Verdict: Don't miss this interesting show.  I commend the Sackler for making lemonade out of the lemons that are the Freer's closing.

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