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The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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6th June 2003 - Upside-Down Picture

On 6 June 1878 a letter (addressed to the editor) was published in The Piccadilly newspaper, and concerned the joke of the upside-down hanging of a Whistler Nocturne which featured in a play called The Grasshopper which was showing at the Gaiety Theatre in London. The letter was signed 'A BROTHER ARTIST', and aimed to defend Whistler from the jibes of the press; it is excerpted below:

"[...the joke of] a picture hung upside down has been fathered upon almost every artist of eminence, the latest form of the joke being that given in the Grasshopper at the Gaiety Theatre, where, by turning upside down a picture by "my master Whistler," one picture is made to serve as two. This was stale enough; but that stupid print Mayfair has this week turned it to staler uses still: -

"'A lady of aesthetic tastes suffered a severe shock the other day owing to the carelessness or denseness of the officials at a certain loan collection. She was possessed of a [certain?] Whistler, in that artist's best manner - that is to say, a dull green piece of canvas, with a white streak across the middle, and called 'The Thames at Midnight,' but looking much more like a dining-room wall with some of the paint chipped off by the back of the chairs. With commendable public spirit, the lady despatched this picture to the Gallery; but what was her horror, when she came to see how it was hung, to discover, on looking closely into it, that her treasure had been hung upside-down!'

"Mr Whistler's name is so much before the public just now that it is as necessary for the paragraph writers to make little jokes about him as to say the fulsome thing about Mrs. Langtry's dress; but, then, editors should at least see that the jokes are not quite such old friends as this. Not that Mr Whistler needs any one to defend him from any joker whatsoever, great or small - or from any critical attacks great or small [...]; but even the art world of to-day is not so entirely without esprit de corps but that a word of protest against foolish injustice can come from

A BROTHER ARTIST."

(GUL, Whistler PC 2/32)