Arrangements in White and Red

Spooner, Catherine (2023) Arrangements in White and Red. Volupte, 6 (2). pp. 141-151. ISSN 2515-0073

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This short story responds to the Royal Academy’s exhibition Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan (2022) by centring Hiffernan’s role in the creation of Whistler’s Symphony in White No. 2: The Little White Girl (1864). At the time that Whistler and Hiffernan were collaborating on this painting, they were also attending séances at their neighbour Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s house, where Rossetti attempted to contact the ghost of his dead wife Elizabeth Siddal. The story takes note of Whistler’s comment that Hiffernan was ‘a bit of a medium’ (Macdonald 2022: 23). It reflects on the ghostly and spectral properties of the white dress and the different ways in which clothing haunts its protagonists. It also considers the different ways in which fabric, or canvas, can be marked – through blood stains, dirt and brush strokes. In doing so it restores Hiffernan’s imagined perspective to the account of the painting’s creation, drawing connections between modelling, and the séance, as kinds of performance. The story is informed by my ongoing research into the cultural history of the white dress (monograph forthcoming with Bloomsbury in 2024-5). It draws on William Michael Rossetti’s record of later séances held by his brother, recently brought to scholarly attention by J.B. Bullen, Rosalind White and J.A. Beaky in Pre-Raphaelites in the Spirit World (2021) as well as on Margaret F. Macdonald’s revisionary work on Hiffernan’s role in the creation of the Symphony in White paintings (2022) and other biographical accounts of her relationship with Whistler. It uses fiction as an alternative means of thinking through cultural constructions of whiteness, by embedding them in specific points of view and moments of emotional affect, not readily accounted for in academic writing. It is accompanied by a brief reflective commentary elucidating the research process.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
?? creative writingshort storyneo-victorian literaturehistorical fictionhistory of artjames mcneill whistlerdante gabriel rossettispiritualismekphrasisgothicnineteenth-century artfashionjoanna hiffernanbiographyartist's modelwhiteghost storyaestheticism ??
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09 Aug 2023 12:55
Last Modified:
16 Jul 2024 14:25