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This portrait of Agnes Mary (‘May’) Alexander was commissioned by her father WC Alexander, the appreciative purchaser of Whistler’s very first Nocturne, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea, hanging nearby. In painting May, Whistler followed a very different path to the one he took when painting her younger sister Cicely, also on display in this room. More simply and starkly conceived, May emerges out of rich shadows, something Whistler copied from the Spanish old master painter Velásquez. The tightly restricted harmony of colours is raised only for the group of yellow flowers.

February 2010