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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 11, Number 4, December 2017
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Charles D. Tarlton
Northampton, Massachusetts, USA


Whistler’s Red and Black: the Fan (1894)

All good colors are equally beautiful; it is only
in the question of their combination that art comes in.

                                                               – Oscar Wilde

In an austere harmony of red and black there boils at once both contradiction and beauty. Where red is nearly all, the thinner black slithers wickedly up, punctuates the voluptuous shape of red.

strike me a Grecian
coin between hard iron dies
a silver drachma -
heads, the goddess Athena
a wise old owl comes up tails

Oh, that long black feathered line down the middle of her red dress! On the right side, the black dress flaunts its splash of bright red flowers or maybe ribbons in the décolletage, and catches our eye; the black dress now slinky as the red one’s boa.

my lady in red
leans forward in the mirror
dreaming of a black
gossamer frock dotted red
dreaming herself into it

I would make metaphors of these two, things standing in for things, and have each contemplate the other in her gaze. The redness of the black; the blackness of the red.

see the girl inside
that black dress. What does she crave?
to hang on a wall
where the museum displays
its famous Whistler women


Author's Notes:

James Abbott McNeill Whistler's Red and Black: the Fan is an oil on canvas, 187 x 90 cm (The Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow); in the public domain.

Kenneth Paul Block’s drawing for the cover of James Brady’s novel Fashion Show, or, The Adventures of Bingo Marsh (1992) is black marker and watercolor, 58 x 41 cm (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Permission for one-time reproduction has been secured from MFA Boston.

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