The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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William Booth Pearsall, 1845-1913

Nationality: Irish
Date of Birth: 1845.10.18
Place of Birth: Dublin
Date of Death: 1913.12.27
Place of Death:


William Booth Pearsall was a dentist.


Pearsall was responsible for organising a Whistler exhibition in Dublin in the winter of 1884-85, Annual Exhibition of Sketches, Pictures, and Photography, Dublin Sketching Club, Leinster Hall, Dublin, 1884. It was the largest exhibition of Whistler works that had so far been held in the U.K., twenty-five pieces being on show, including Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101) and Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137). Works by John Singer Sargent, Julian Story and Ralph Curtis were also exhibited. Whistler could not attend the opening concert in December as he was tied up in London but suggested that he might come across and give one or two lectures in January (#08106). The lectures never took place. Pearsall had Whistler's group of works photographed with his permission (#08108).

Pearsall described how, 'The exhibition was hardly open, before a critical music began, and, in the papers and in conversation, a regular tempest arose, that was highly diverting to Mr Whistler.' Pink note - The Novelette (M.900) was mentioned in the Dublin Daily Express and Irish Times on 1 December 1884. Pearsall declared that Whistler 'quite enjoyed all the heat and ferment.' Indeed, Whistler thanked Pearsall for his 'warmth in my cause' and asked him to send him all the press cuttings he could: 'for it is a joy to me to see the loutish underbred method of mine enemies, who rave and tare [sic] their hair and blunder with their bludgeons and touch me never! - while it is my wicked pleasure to watch them in their agonies of impotent rage, and to pink them over and over again in the same dainty cicatrice that covers the cruel wound!' (#08109).

Whistler hoped that he might sell manage to sell Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137) during the exhibition [#10929]. According to Pearsall, Jonathan Hogg offered to purchase both Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101) and Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137). However, Whistler was not willing to sell the portrait of his mother. However, the exhibition did bring a sale, Hogg buying a watercolour, Nocturne in grey and gold - Piccadilly (M.862). It also resulted in Whistler's election as Honorary Member of the Dublin Sketching Club.

Later that decade Pearsall visited Whistler in London and apparently saw Lady Archibald Campbell posing for Arrangement in Black: La Dame au brodequin jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell (YMSM 242) in Whistler's Fulham Road studio. There he was introduced to Mortimer Menpes, Theodore Roussel, Walter Sickert and William Stott. He was also shown Nocturne: Blue and Gold - St Mark's, Venice (YMSM 213) and Whistler asked him 'if Ruskin would admit he could draw architecture': Ruskin's criticism of Canaletto's ability to depict architectural ornament as compared to Prout's was quoted by Whistler in his comment on Nocturne: Blue and Gold - St Mark's, Venice (YMSM 213) in his Goupil catalogue of 1892 and was later included in the second edition of The Gentle Art of Making Enemies along with a butterfly with a barbed tail. Inspired by his visit to Whistler's studio, Pearsall recalled for the Pennells 'the Chippendale table used as a palette', 'the charming studies in pastel of the nude drawn on brown paper' pinned to the wall, the 'silver flame' in Whistler's hair and 'the alertness and decorum of all his movements'.


Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Who was who: a companion to Who's who, vol. 1, 1897/1915, London, 1920-1921; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995.