The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 100th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Academy, London, 1868
Record 3 of 3

System Number: 10632
Date: [September/November 1869][1]
Author: JW
Place: [London]
Recipient: Thomas Winans[2]
Place: [London?]
Repository: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Call Number: Autograph Letters, Box II; NYMA 87 - AO MS6 - MS10
Document Type: ALS[3]

2 Lindsey Row Chelsea

My dear Mr. Winans -

We have just returned from a visit in the country[4] and my Mother[5] has shown me your kind letter[6] to her - You are quite right in being surprised that at my still being in perplexity as to my money matters - At first sight this is apparently most discouraging if not hopeless - but the explanation is really simple, and the trouble is not at all the result of ill success in my profession or difficulty in dispersing of my works - There appears to be no dispute as to the position I have taken, and I have at this moment plenty of commissions[7] for important pictures -

I can get high prices for what I do and in the world am looked upon and spoken of as a most successful man -

But - for the last two years I have been absorbed in study[8] - a most expensive proceeding for one who has [p. 2] no capital to go on - first because study and experiment prevent finished saleable production - and second because this study is made at the daily cost of materials - models who must be paid and who come to an awful lot! - and rent for a studio[9] I was obliged to take during the winter - In short a continued outgoing and nothing coming in. - All this study has doubtless astonished many who wonder what I can be about and how it is I have shown nothing for so long - either at the Academy[10] or even in my Studio! - but I am sure you will sympathize with my anxiety in my work which will not admit of my being contented with what merely "would sell" - For instance I had a large picture of three figures[11] nearly life size fully underway - indeed far advanced towards completion - the owner[12] delighted - and everyone highly pleased with it - except myself - Instead of going on with it as it was, I wiped it clean out! scraped it off the canvass [sic] and put it aside that I might perfect myself in certain knowledge that I should overcome imperfections I found in my work, [p. 3] and now I expect shortly to begin it all over again from the very beginning! - But with a certainty that will carry me through in one third of the time! - The results of the education I have been giving myself these two years and more will show themselves in the time gained in my future work.

Like the captain of the Missisippi steamboat when he ran on a land bank, I have had to "back out and grease"!!

"Greasing[13]" is expensive and I am always hard up -

Here my dear Mr. Winans is the story of the whole business - and if you are not tired of helping me as well you might be, and will treat me with another loan[14], Five hundred pounds will I think carry me through these difficulties and enable me to work until my pictures shall pay for themselves - Believe me as ever

Yours affectionately,

J A McNeill Whistler

I send[15] you a small photograph[16] of the "cartoon" for one of the pictures I am engaged upon -

The figure itself is about small life size and will when painted be clad in thin transparent drapery, a lot of flowers and very light bright colour go to make up the picture[17].

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [September/November 1869]
This letter probably dates from shortly after the visit of JW and his mother to Speke Hall near Liverpool in the autumn of 1869 (see below).

2.  Thomas Winans
Thomas De Kay Winans (1820-1878), locomotive engineer and collector [more].

3.  ALS
Published in Thorp, Nigel (Editor), Whistler on Art: Selected Letters and Writings 1849-1903 of James McNeill Whistler, Manchester, 1994, and Washington, 1995, no. 10, pp. 30-31.

4.  country
JW and his mother had made their first visit to Speke Hall, the country home of the Leyland family, in September 1869 (see #07642; see also Merrill, Linda, The Peacock Room. A Cultural Biography, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 122 and n. 73).

5.  mother
Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), née McNeill, JW's mother [more].

6.  letter
Not located.

7.  commissions
Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more], had commissioned a portrait of himself, and a figure composition, The Three Girls (YMSM 88).

8.  study
Many chalk figure drawings from the late 1860s and early 1870s testify to JW's efforts to improve his draughtsmanship (see, for instance, M.325-335, 348-359). These included both draped and nude figures, some drawn in life-classes (e.g. M.352, 416).

9.  studio
JW worked on The Three Girls (YMSM 88) in a studio at 62 Great Russell Street belonging to Frederick Jameson (1839-1916), architect and musician [more].

10.  Academy
JW exhibited nothing at either 100th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Academy, London, 1868 or 101st Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Academy, London, 1869.

11.  three figures
The Three Girls (YMSM 88). It was never completed, but destroyed at the time of JW's bankruptcy in 1879.

12.  owner
Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more].

13.  Greasing
A square cut out of the paper to the left of this paragraph.

14.  loan
T. Winans lent JW a lot of money between 1855 and 1867 (see #09570, #12623, #12624, #07081). There is no record of a later loan.

15.  I send
Remainder of text on p. 1.

16.  photograph
JW had a photograph taken of his cartoon of Venus (M.357), a design signed and dated 1869, which was pricked for transfer but probably never completed. A proof of this photograph was incised by JW, suggesting alterations to the design (GUL).

17.  picture
The Three Girls (YMSM 88) was cut up at the time of JW's bankruptcy. The only surviving fragment, Girl with Cherry Blossom (YMSM 90), shows the transparent drapery and flowers intended for the projected painting.