A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

James McNeill Whistler, The White Girl, and the Animal(s) in Question.





James McNeill Whistler, painting, wolf, sheep, iconography, symbolism


James McNeill Whistler’s painting, Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, has been the focus of much art historical analysis, but the animal rug beneath the feet of his model has received little attention. In this essay I suggest that Whistler represented a mounted wolf’s head sitting on top of a large sheepskin rug, i.e., a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Exploring the diverse meanings of this symbol within the context of the painting complicates how we understand the work and reinforces its importance as a reflection of the artist’s life and ambitions at the time he created it.


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Author Biography

Laura D. Gelfand, Utah State University

Laura D. Gelfand is Professor of Art History at Utah State University. Her research centres on representations of dogs and wolves in the history of art. She was a Fulbright Fellow at the University of York in 2018–19, and in addition to editing Our Dogs, Our Selves: Dogs in Medieval and Early Modern Art, Literature, and Society (Brill, 2016), her recent publications include: “The Wolf at the Door and the Dog at Our Feet”, Home Cultures 18, no. 2 (2021): 105–27, and “Human Animal Interactions in Western Art”, in The Handbook on Human-Animal Interactions, Interventions and Anthrozoology, Routledge (2023): 658–76.

James McNeill Whistler, “The White Girl” (detail)




How to Cite

Gelfand, Laura. 2023. “ and the Animal(s) in Question”. Humanimalia 14 (1):137–174. https://doi.org/10.52537/humanimalia.13562.