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The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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29th October 2003 - Stile Wars

In the late summer of 1885 James McNeill Whistler sustained an injury to his wrist whilst out in the country. The artist records the "catastrophe" in a letter to Lady Wharncliffe following his trip to Wortley Hall, as follows:

"Eluding the eye of my hostess I had managed to stray away from the lawn and very shortly came to grief in a neighbouring meadow - tumbling ignominiously over a stile (I think they call it) - My wrist altogether out of drawing...".

(GUL MS Whistler W2)

Later on in the year on 29 October, art dealer Ernest G. Brown wrote to Whistler, ending his letter with a brief allusion to the stile incident:

"I hope your hand is better".

(GUL MS Whistler F111a)

On the whole Whistler did not enjoy being out in the countryside, and there are various incidents on record which describe the artist's trials which he suffered in the great outdoors. For example, another incident of the artist 'tumbling ignominiously' occured in 1883, although this time it seems that instead of falling from a stile, it was perhaps from a horse that the artist was ejected; we read about the event in a letter from Whister to Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton (c.25 October 1883):

"...I am rather down on my luck - for me - Have been in the country you know - and came down on my back - never am safe in a field!"

(GUL MS Whistler W1345)

More information about this incident is found in another letter, this one to Helen Whistler. It contains an unusual reference to 'trees':

"Back is really bad! too many trees in the country"

(GUL MS Whistler W697)

It can only be supposed that Whistler perhaps rode his horse too near to a tree and was felled.

The artist regularly alludes in his correspondence to his generally negative feelings towards the countryside. In a letter of July 1899 he refers to "the recklessness of committing myself to the country air" (GUL MS Whistler A18). It also seems that Whistler's dislike of the countryside was fairly well known. Joseph E. Boehm, writing to Whistler in 1885, notes that "I had to get an afternoon train for the country - (which you hate...)" (GUL MS Whistler B105).