This marks the 100th year of the death of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), and the occasion is being taken at The Frick Collection to spotlight an aspect of the artist's work that can use further illumination. Fashion was related importantly to his art, and he was sometimes instrumental in designing what women who posed for him should wear. Thus by looking at his work one can gain insight into the fashions of the times. Under the title "Whistler, Women and Fashion," the Frick has not only assembled paintings and sketches revealing the fashion link, but also fashion illustrations of the period in which Whistler flourished.

The women themselves are of considerable interest, made more so when you see them in their finery. Take his attractive model and mistress, Joanna Hiffernan. We see her in the painting "Symphony in White No 2: The Little White Girl," which Whistler painted in 1864. There are also impressive portraits of the artist's sister-in-law, Ethel Birnie Philip--"Red and Black: The Fan" and "Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian." Paintings of Mrs. Frances Leyland, Rosa Corder, Lady Archibald Campbell and Lady Meux are also among those included. In addition to enjoying and studying the paintings themselves, one gets an idea of dress worn for various purposes.

Whistler's sketches, in the downstairs gallery, are also of interest. This is an exhibit that should have special appeal to those attuned to the fashion world and its history. Furthermore, it sheds additional light on the career of an artist who had his share of variety and controversy. The show at the Frick is not an idea concocted to find a theme; it has artistic and historical validity and has been thoughtfully and intriguingly mounted. Through July 13, 2003 at The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street. Phone: 212-288-0700.

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