UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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28th May 2003 - A Poor Correspondent

Despite the fact that the Whistler Centre has been working on transcriptions of many hundreds of letters written by James McNeill Whistler, the artist himself often claimed to be a poor correspondent. In July 1878 he told Samuel Putnam Avery that "Writing is not my forte" (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, 87 A0 MS6 MS10), and writing to Henri Fantin-Latour ten years previously Whistler had claimed that "pour les lettres tu sais je suis toujours terrible" ("for you know how terrible I am with letters") (LCMS PWC 1/33/28).

In some cases Whistler did neglect his writing duties, a fact that his mother, Anna Whistler, pointed out from time to time. Responding to his mother's pleas for a letter, in September 1878 Whistler offered the following excuse: "You know how my not writing is only the result of my utter abhorrence of the pen" (GUL Whistler W557). This abhorrence was reflected much later in his life in a letter to Joseph Pennell in January 1894, when Whistler stated that "I have given up writing altogether" (LCMS PWC 272/3/3). This was however far from the truth, and Whistler remained a dedicated correspondent for the rest of his days.