This captivating painting belongs to a group of lyrical, contemplative works by the Scottish artist Robert Burns. Inspired by his love of romantic poetry, in particular the Scottish ballads, the series depicts women waiting and watching in shaded interiors before the light of a large, central window. Although the titles of a number of the other works reference their poetic source, The Window Seat appears to conjure up a moment and a mood rather than a specific piece of literature or mythology.
The painting is a harmony of colours: soft shades of blue, green, peach and yellow blend together to create a gentle, elegant whole. The drapery of her chiffon tea-dress is exquisitely rendered with the moonlight shining through her long, translucent, pleated sleeves. Through the window one can see the same silvery light reflecting on the estuary below, dotted with the lights from the houses beyond. On the sill before her are a vase of white flowers and a Japanese fan.
Burns had discovered Japanese art while studying in Paris in the 1890s and it had an immediate impact on his work. He was one of the first Scottish artists to combine oriental design and the dynamism of art nouveau with his own Glasgow style, as an illustrator for journals such as Ver Sacrum, the official magazine of the Vienna Secession, and as an exhibitor in international exhibitions in Munich and Vienna. However, perhaps the most obvious influence on The Window Seat, was the work of James Abbott McNeil Whistler. Not only can this be seen in the nods to Japanese art, such as the strategically placed fan, a trope used by Whistler in Symphony in White, No. 2, 1864 (Tate), but also in the colour palette and reflections which call to mind his nocturnes. However, The Window Seat is very much Burns’s own attempt ‘to realise the mystery and beauty of the gloaming, rendered even more elusive by the rising mists.’ (E.G. Halton, The Studio, 1906, p. 29).