The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 103rd exhibition, Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1885
Record 15 of 15

System Number: 11356
Date: [23 June 1886][1]
Author: Malcolm Charles Salaman[2]
Place: [London]
Recipient: The Editor, Court and Society Review
Place: [London]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscript Division, Pennell-Whistler Collection, PWC 14/1308-10
Document Type: TLc[3]


Sir, -

I can only suppose that the above letters are printed in order to show the readers of your paper the kind of ignorant abuse which continues to assail an artist who respects the dignity of art, and will not lower the aim and purpose of his work to the level of the unthinking and the vulgar. As Mr Whistler has himself very truly said, the 'one touch of nature which makes the whole world kin' is vulgarity, and therefore anything that is outside that kinship of the multitude appeals not to its understanding or its sensibility, and only succeeds in inspiring its contempt or ridicule. But this contempt and this ridicule really recoil upon those who entertain it, for the understanding [p. 2] few are the masters, and in time force the unthinking multitude to obedience.

'A Country Collector' does not pretend to 'critical acumen'. Well and good! Yet he claims 'a right to express an opinion about painting.' Astounding inconsequence!

Were the gentleman a painter, he would have known, without supposing it even necessary to comment upon it, that Mr Whistler has chosen to send a work in progress. This, though unusual, would not excuse any but an 'art collector of some years' standinf' [sic] for the mistake of believing that he is 'invited to gaze' upon the absolutely completed painting of a master, whose finished execution the whole world has already been forced to acknowledge in such works as the 'Portrait of the Painter's Mother,' the 'Carlyle[4]', now hanging in a place of honour in Berlin, and receiving more admiration than any other English picture in the International Exhibition there; the graceful and distinguished portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell[5], which was last year the marvel of the Salon; and the noble picture of Sarasate[6], which last summer made the exhibition of the British Artists historical. These, and other great works by the same hand, should have been remembered by this provoked and prurient provincial before venturing to pit his unscientific and admittedly valueless opinion against the knowledge of the master who produced them.

As to the other letters, including the venturesome 'Van Eyck,' (why 'Van Eyck?') whose oyster is a rara avis (?) indeed! the 'ridiculous' 'British Artist', and 'The Unknown Quantity,' - [p. 3] doubtless! - I fancy that it were kind to leave these gentlemen with their own sense of satisfaction when, upon reading their delicate productions in print, they thank the gods that, at least, they have had the wit not to sign them.


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1.  [23 June 1886]
Date of publication in the Court and Society Review (see notes below).

2.  Malcolm C. Salaman
Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940), art critic and dramatist [more].

3.  TLc
This is a typescript copy of a letter originally published in the Court and Society Review. See also other documents in this sequence: M. C. Salaman's original article, 'Hail President Whistler,' #11351; and letters from 'A British Artist,' 'A Country Collector,' 'The Unknown Quantity' and 'Van Eyck' to the Editor, Court and Society Review, #11352, #11353, #11354, #11355.

4.  Carlyle
Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137).

5.  Lady Archibald Campbell
Arrangement in Black: La Dame au brodequin jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell (YMSM 242).

6.  Sarasate
Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate (YMSM 315).