James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903)
Oil on canvas
27 x 53 1/8 in. (68.6 x 134.9 cm)
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1912 (12.32)
Between about 1872 and 1877, Whistler painted seven oils featuring Cremorne Gardens, a popular London amusement park that offered music, dancing, colored light shows, and spectacular fireworks. The French Impressionists, whom Whistler knew, also portrayed outdoor public entertainments in parks and resorts, as Claude Monet did in 1869 in La Grenouillère (29.100.112). In contrast to the Impressionists, however, Whistler sought to emphasize a harmonious world on the canvas, not simply to record the world of appearances. As Cremorne Gardens was associated with the demimonde, the painting may refer to an encounter between four prostitutes and a potential customer. Whistler's principal goal, however, was to imply with his brilliantly colored, ghostlike forms the ephemeral charm of an evening's gathering in the veiled atmosphere of an indistinct setting rather than a legible narrative.