At the Piano1858–59, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903), Oil on canvas
The “Piano Picture,” as the artist called this study of his half-sister and niece, is world-renowned as Whistler’s first masterpiece. This experiment in composition and color is held together by a grid of picture frames, moldings, and furniture. With its space curving inward at the edges, two parallel centers are created in the black-robed woman concentrating on her playing while her white-clad daughter gazes outward. An advocate of “art for art’s sake,” Whistler relieved the suggestion of confinement by emphasizing reflections in the glass of the pictures as well as on the piano legs and instrument case.