Late nineteenth century artists were echoing novelists, biographers, and historians in attempting to “hide, reveal, or at least understand the secret life of the self.” Many Victorian’s relied on the visual, performing, and literary arts to act as mirrors reflecting their inner selves. James McNeill Whistler’s self-portrait, The Artist in his Studio, both reveals and conceals the artist’s fashioning of himself. I demonstrate that the inclusion of a mirror and Whistler’s attire are pivotal to the painting’s meaning. The mirror discloses that Whistler made formal and symbolic references to Diego Velázquez’ Las Meninas. Whistler’s mirror, however, obscures visual cues, including his use of mirror imaging. Just as Velázquez’ clothing conveys meaning; Whistler’s signifies his chosen persona of the dandy. The work of another dandy, Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, provides a means of elucidating the tension between revelation and concealment in Whistler’s painting since Wilde’s character of the artist is based on Whistler. In the book, a painting takes on the reflective characteristics of a mirror, but through the artist’s perceptual genius, exposes Dorian’s hidden interior versus his exterior visage. Whistler’s self-portrait, like the creations of Velázquez and Wilde, communicates meaning through the rejection of conventional visual mirroring properties.
|Keywords:||James McNeill Whistler, The Artist in his Studio, Self-creation, Self-portrait, Mirror, Dandy, Picture of Dorian Gray, Las Meninas|
Assistant Professor of Art History, Division of Art and Design, College of Creative Arts, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA
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