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The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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27th October 2003 - Charles James Whistler Hanson

Charles James Whistler Hanson was the son of Louisa Fanny Hanson, said to have been a parlourmaid, and James McNeill Whistler. According to Whistler's biographers the Pennells, Hanson was taken in by Joanna Hiffernan and went to stay with her at 5 Thistle Grove, despite the fact that Whistler had been unfaithful to her. Hiffernan continued to look after him as late as 1880 when the artist was away in Venice with Maud Franklin, his current mistress. The existence of Charlie Hanson was also kept a secret from Whistler's mother.

Whistler provided Hanson with money and around 1887 he gave him a vacation job as his private secretary. However, their relationship was not close, and he often treated his son harshly. The tone of the comments written by Whistler to Hanson (in a letter from Amsterdam to London in October 1889) presents a not untypical example of Whistler's attitude towards his son:

"Today no Pall Mall [newspaper] has come - How is that? We should never be a single day without it - you have been told...

So then there would seem to be no excuse whatever for the neglect of duty on your part -

You knew from my distinct directions that it was your business to write each day a report of what you had done - and every day under all circumstances you were to send an account of some kind by post -

This you have deliberately dropped - thereby allowing me to be annoyed by useless anxiety -

I am very angry with you..."

(LCMS Pennell-Whistler Collection)

A different side of Hanson's life is displayed in some preparatory pages of his memoirs (which remained unpublished), in which the famous artist's son recounts his earliest memories:

"It is considered a great blessing to have a good memory but sometimes one's memories are not always pleasant and then one wishes that one could forget...

"My first mental picture is not a pleasant one. I am held in a woman's arms and looking down into a grave in which a small coffin is resting with some flowers on it. There are only about five people present, a clergyman[,] two men and two women. The woman holding me is shaken with sobs and holds me convulsively. I do not understand, and begin to cry. The vision fades.

"I have been looking at the burial of my foster brother, from subsequent enquiries I know I was under two years old."

(GUL MS Whistler H342)