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This painting has a dream-like atmosphere: the woman is pensive and the reflection of her face in the mirror is silhouetted against a seascape. There is no story here; viewers were intended to appreciate the picture’s design, colour and mood. James Whistler’s enthusiasm for Japan influenced the composition and the selection of objects. It inspired the poet Algernon Swinburne to write Before the Mirror and his verses, written on sheets of gold paper, were pasted onto the original frame. Whistler’s lover, Joanna Hiffernan, was the model and it was painted at Whistler’s house in Chelsea.

February 2010