Congratulations on winning the $2,000 Spring 2022 Art History Scholarship and best wishes ongoing to:
Katherine Wang Zhang, Sophomore at Colby College, Art History and Philosophy major
“Beautiful things always had caught my eye for as long as I could remember.
Sunlight gilding the rafters, the condensation in the water pitcher, the actor’s expression during the height of a play performance, the water turning into silk while rowing – all were remarkable. But art, for all its idiosyncrasies, was always something that influenced me in some solemn indiscernible way and was more beautiful and remarkable than any normal happening around me. And that is precisely why I am an art history major.
I always felt that it was my duty to share this beauty and the solemn, indiscernible feeling with everyone. This vocation drove me to research a research assistant for the head of the Art Department at Colby College, for the Lunder Institute of American Art at the Colby Museum of Art with Dr. Hedley Jensen of AMNH & Bard College and Dr. Patricia Norby of the MET, and for the director of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, AB Brown.
I have done directed research on things varying from printer mark medallions at a local library to scenes of craft production in the American Southwest to the Camp Aesthetic to the exercise of gross indecency laws across the world. I made a zine on Oscar Wilde for my Research Assistant work for Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde to help contextualize Oscar Wilde outside of the theatrical production. With my double major in Art History and Philosophy, I aim to go to graduate school for Art History with the ultimate goal of becoming a curator so I can better share art with the world.”
Scholarship Winning Essay / Katherine Wang Zhang
Compare and contrast the 2 paintings shown below:
The female nude has been a common subject since the beginning of art, subject to myriad interpretations in the Western canon. Both Eileen Monaghan Whitaker and Frederic Whitaker put their respective personal touches on the female nude by staging it in different settings in “The Orchid” and “Recumbent Nude,” as well their unique perspectives and goals in their production.
Flora is predominantly featured in both “Orchid” and “Recumbent Nude,” but is utilized in different ways to the female nude. Eileen Monaghan Whitaker scales her frontal facing female nude to be equal to an orchid, and further surrounds the figure with flowers, creating a less exposed environment. This creates an intimate atmosphere of just the subject that belies its large, display-level, scale for a watercolor, 22×30 inches. This depiction of the female nude in conjunction with flowers gives the impression that the female nude is in dialogue with nature, by likening it to the orchid bloom rather than male gaze viewing pleasure, a contrast to Frederick Whitaker’s “Recumbent Nude.”
Rather than complimenting the female nude with flora, Frederic Whitaker tackles the female nude in conjunction with objects, and the flora he does use ends up feeling like another object. Texture and composition of the various effects in the picture surround the nude: the drape of the white and blue cloths, the red patterned carpet, the crisp white cloth or paper, the white screen in the back, the red and brown pot with white flowers. Frederic Whitaker sets the stage for his female nude with these objects, creating a different private atmosphere to Eileen’s, for the viewer and the subject. The back-facing nude may be less exposed than Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s “Orchid”, but Frederic Whitaker’s focus on the flesh of “Recumbent Nude” gives it a sensual quality.
“Orchid”’s nude is dainty and divine– put into contrast with the blooming orchid and other flora surrounding it. “Recumbent Nude” is sensual and mortal – put into contrast with the stage of domestic and mundane effects littered around it. This difference may be due to the distinctly different personalities of Eileen Monaghan Whitaker and Frederic Whiter. “Orchid”’s interpretation of the human figure within nature belies it a sense of timelessness and romance which matches with her tendency to avoid painting portraits for nature and the human figure. “Recumbent Nude” is more classical in its composition: matching many of the Western cannon’s preconceptions of a typical female nude.
However, Frederic Whitaker makes it more intimate by its staging, and its alternative title of “Recumbent Nude (Eileen)”, assumed to be of his wife, Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, painted shortly after their marriage, 1944. This then explains the intimacy and care he puts into the surroundings and the detail of the flesh of her form. All other objects that Frederic Whitaker surrounds her with lack the colors and details that she possesses, showing meticulous planning in producing the details in watercolor just for the main subject. Hence, it is apparent that “Recumbent Nude (Eileen)” was a work of intimacy and affection by Frederic Whitaker for Eileen Monaghan Whitaker shortly after their marriage.
Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s “Orchid” was painted in 1975, five years before Frederic Whitaker’s death. While the frontal facing nude is typically more scandalous than a back-facing nude, Eileen Whitaker manages to cool down the work with the nature and subdued color palette. However, orchids are typically sexualized plants, representing sexuality, virility and fertility, and both male and female anatomy. Rather than provoking just sensual pleasure, Eileen Whitaker’s “Orchid” seems to promote female autonomy sublimely. The woman is not exposing her entire frontal body, but rather comfortably reclining amongst nature, with a breeze blowing – in her element.
Despite this impression of ease, “Orchid” was a multi-step execution. Producing the ease – with the hair blowing, the shadowy curtain behind the primary flower, and the entire composition of “Orchid” must have taken Eileen Whitaker multiple days and careful planning to make sure the colors did not run into each other. She alternates between clearly defined forms to organic shapes.
Frederic Whitaker’s “Recumbent Nude (Eileen)” feels more meticulously planned with a lack of organic shapes, which gives it a lack of ease that “Orchid” possesses. However, “Recumbent Nude” is extraordinarily easy to approach compared to “Orchid”’s fantastical nature. This only goes to show the difference between Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s philosophies, Frederic Whitaker’s being that art should be approachable to all people, and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s expressing her whim and fancy – drawing in people to her vision.
While Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s “Orchid” derives a more original and organic depiction of the female nude, Frederick Whitaker’s “Recumbent Nude (Eileen)” is an intimate dedication to Eileen Whitaker. “Recumbent Nude” was painted during the beginning of Whitaker’s relationship, and “Orchid” was at their end.
pulled from foundation website