The Chelsea Girl is representative of Whistler’s mature painting style, featuring a single, monumental figure rendered in a limited color palette. Unlike other portraits Whistler painted of upper-class clients and friends, the subject of this portrait is a working-class girl. Whistler dignifies the girl with a defiant stance and pointed gaze.
Whistler declared The Chelsea Girl “the first statement of the beginning of a painting,” but he was so satisfied with it that he gave the painting to Alexander Cassatt, brother of artist Mary Cassatt. Because of its sketchy style, Whistler’s working methods are evident here. He used thin glazes of brown paint for the shoulders of the girl’s coat, layers of peach and rose for her face, thick yellow brushstrokes to render her scarf, and dashes of white to fill in the apron. Also notice where Whistler changed the position of the girl’s left leg to improve the composition.