1862. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA. Read Note.
Symphony in White No.1: The White Girl. The model for the picture was Whistler’s mistress, Joanna Hiffernan, called Jo. For a few years, this beautiful, red-haired Irishwoman managed Whistler’s affairs, keeping his house and assisting him with the sale of his work. To give herself respectability, she called herself Mrs. Abbott; her drunken father also referred to Whistler as ‘me son-in-law’. She sat for many of his pictures, including Caprice in Purple and Gold No 2 - The Golden Screen. Wapping Purple and Rose: The Lange Lijzen of the Six Marks. Symphony in White No 2: The Little White Girl. and others.
Whistler introduced Jo to Courbet, who also responded to her beauty and painted her combing her hair in The Beautiful Irish Girl, of which four versions exist, one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Later, in 1866, she posed as one of the two nude women in Courbet’s Sleepers (Petit Palais, Paris), a fact that may have contributed to Whistler’s decision to break with her.
By 1869, Jo had been replaced by Louisa Fanny Hanson, about whom little is known except that the following year she bore Whistler a son (christened Charles James Whistler Hanson) and then disappeared, leaving the son to be adopted and raised by Jo.
See: James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Caprice in Purple and Gold No 2 - The Golden Screen. Wapping Purple and Rose: The Lange Lijzen of the Six Marks. Symphony in White No 2: The Little White Girl