Artist & Model: Whistler and Joanne Hifferman

Wednesday 1 February 2023 at 2.00 pm at the Lowther Pavilion.  Guests may attend the lecture – £8 pp (pay on door)

** Please note that due to planned rail strikes on this date, the lecture will be via Zoom at the Lowther Theatre **


The lecture notes leaflet can be downloaded/printed here


Joanne Rhymer

Since completing an MA at University College London (UCL) in the History of Art: Modernism and the Politics of Representation (1997), Jo has been employed in various roles at the National Gallery including Adult Learning Officer and the Head of Adult Learning Programmes. In a freelance capacity, she has worked in prestigious learning departments in London galleries and museums including Tate, the Hayward Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery as well as leading group excursions in the UK and abroad.

She is currently a Panel Tutor for the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge and teaches for the Wallace Collection and the V&A as well as a range of private institutions.

Her areas of specialism include 19th century and early 20th century French art, and her interests include the visual skills involved in sustained looking at paintings.


Whistler’s monumental and enigmatic painting, Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862) is a celebrated painting. Although its size recalls traditional portraits of esteemed figures depicted on a grand scale, Whistler’s painting technique and treatment of the subject is strikingly modern. His depiction of the face and red hair of the model, Joanna Hiffernan, contrasts dramatically with his depiction of her ethereal clothing and pallid backdrop. Whistler’s treatment disrupts our reading of the painting as a straightforward representation of a young woman. So how can we interpret this painting?

This lecture will consider the role of Joanna Hiffernan in Whistler’s art and life. Was she simply the artist’s model and lover, appearing in several key works by the artist, or was she, in fact, a key collaborator in the development of modern art? This talk will draw on themes in the Royal Academy’s exhibition in 2022, Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan (26 February-22 May 2022).


Caption: Portrait of Joanna Hiffernan by James McNeill Whistler; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D C, online collection. Public domain