This ambitious story chronicles the endeavors of celebrated artist James McNeill Whistler to redecorate the room containing one of his most beautiful paintings, La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine (The Princess from the Land of Porcelain) . Told through the voice of the painting's subject, the prevailing attitude of the time--the delineation between fine and applied art is so fine as to be virtually nonexistent--is handily conveyed. (Though the relating of the actual decorating process is somewhat misleading in its simplicity.) Whistler's enigmatic personality, too, emerges to a point--though this will be of scant concern to the picture book set. Indeed, this admirably intentioned and handsomely executed book seems to lie beyond the grasp of the target audience, even allowing for some stretching of that audience's interest. Dixon's resplendent watercolors--somewhat reminiscent of the work of Graham Rust--display a painterly quality that offers additional insight into the creative process. Ages 5-9. (Apr.)
- Jan Lieberman
She sits in beauty midst the harmony of blues and golds in a room known as The Peacock Room. The princess in the painting tells the story of how the room came to be and how it survived a feud that ended a friendship and resulted in her fame. This tale is the story of James Whistler's interior decoration of his friend Frederick Leyland's dining room which houses Whistler's painting "The Princess From the Land of Porcelain." Dixon's illustrations handsomely recreate the beauty of that room, a part of the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, and Whistler's grand passion for creating the most beautiful room in the world. Now open to the public.
Picture ladies will love this picture book. It's a grand anecdote about James McNeill Whistler, with artwork large enough to use in small-group situations. However, as far as independent readers go, it will take an older child, one who's very interested in art, to appreciate it: first, because the subject, Whistler's Peacock Room, a dining room the painter decorated for a British businessman, is so esoteric; second, because the story, told by the lady in Whistler's painting "The Princess from the Land of Porcelain" (the centerpiece of the Peacock Room), teeters uncomfortably between fact and fantasy. It's classified as fiction, but the jacket flap tells us it's based on a real incident. The pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations capture the driven Whistler, but without some introduction from an adult or a look at the jacket flap (which many kids won't do), the story has little punch. The book's final page features two color photographs of the Peacock Room as it now exists in the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution.