The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

return to search results

Document associated with: Twenty-fifth Annual Exhibition, Society of American Artists, New York, 1903
Record 1 of 1

System Number: 13799
Date: 30 March 1903
Author: Charles Lang Freer[1]
Place: Detroit
Recipient: JW
Place: [London]
Repository: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Call Number: FGA Society of American Artists
Credit Line: Charles Lang Freer Papers, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Gift of the Estate of Charles Lang Freer
Document Type: TLc[2]

No. 33 Ferry Ave.,
Detroit, Mich.

Mar. 30th, 1903

Dear Mr. Whistler: -

You doubtless have heard, ere this, through my several letters to Mr. Canfield[3] of the particulars leading up to the agreement under which I was to furnish three examples of your Paintings, to the Exhibition of the Society of American Artists[4], now being held in New York.

The original request came to me from Mr. Will H. Low[5], a member of the Soliciting Committee of the Society. After consulting with Mr. Canfield and acting under authority from him, I promised the portrait of "Count Robert[6]" which I did.

After Mr. Canfield had purchased the "Rosa Corder[7]" he informed me that if I cared to do so, I might loan the picture to the Society, and suggested that I add something of your work, from my own collection.

I communicated with Mr. Low, promptly, and told him that a Friend of mine, the owner of "Count Robert," had recently purchased the lovely "Rosa Corder" and that he had generously authorized me to loan her to the forthcoming exhibition and that I would cheerfully send additional works by you from my own collection, provided the Society really desired them, and would willingly hang them in one group in a place of honor. I also said to Mr. Low that in naming the matter to the Board of Control, he might, if he chose to do, say that you had cheerfully consented to the Exhibition, also that you sent your Compliments and Greetings to the Society.

Being in a generous mood I further said to Mr. Low that as he had seen my collection of your work, and had named his favourites, he might, if he wished, select therefrom examples to hang with the "Rosa Corder". We discussed the matter fully and he finally decided that his choice would be the "Nocturne Blue and Silver Battersea Reach," formerly owned by Mr. Rawlinson[8] and the "Nocturne Grey and Silver, Chelsea Embankment, Winter," formerly owned by Mr. Orchar[9]. In this way the group was determined and the agreement made.

Also the time of the arrival of the "Rosa Corder" was discussed, which I feared even at that time, might be somewhat delayed by the Red Tape methods of Custom House Officials, and allowance for possible delay was accordingly made. A few days thereafter I visited Philadelphia to see the Exhibition of the Philadelphia Academy, and finding your work not as well hung as I had expected from my correspondence with Mr. Morris[10], notwithstanding that it was the last day of the Exhibition, I went directly to him and entered a vigorous verbal protest. At first he insisted that the place given to your pictures was as good as any in the Galleries, which I turned and pointed out to him that the place of honor was given to Mr. Sargent's portrait of Mr. Chase[11], that a fine center was given to Mr. Alexander's[12] weak work etc. etc., all of which led to much talk about Hanging Committees, their treatment of specially invited pictures etc.

With this disappointment stirring in my blood, I returned to New York and went early the next morning direct to Mr. Low's studio, told him how unfairly your pictures had been treated in Philadelphia, and asked if in his opinion anything of the same sort was likely to happen in New York. He said "Certainly not" but suggested that there might spring up a desire on the part of the Hanging Committee, to give the first place of honor, (there are two places of honor in the Vanderbilt Gallery equally good) to Sargent's portrait of President Roosevelt[13], to which I replied "Certainly any portrait of the President of the United States, which would pass the Jury, no matter by whom painted, should be given the first place of honor, let it have the center of the North Wall and give Mr. Whistler the center of the East Wall." All of which was agreed to and I, thinking everything perfectly arranged, returned to Detroit.

The Sargent portrait of President Roosevelt, for reasons unknown to me, was not sent to the Society although I supposed it had been, until I reached New York a few days ago.

Later a letter came from Mr. Low to me here, enclosing one written by Mr. Kenyon Cox[14], Chairman of Soliciting Committee, to Mr. Low, in which he spoke of the expense of transportation and insurance of your pictures and expressed some anxiety about the financial affairs of the Society, and as I then wrongly fancied, said between the lines that Cox, not Low, should have invited the Whistlers and arranged matters with Freer.

Since then I have learned that Cox is one of your staunchest admirers and that he, more ably than any other man, argued before the Board of Control not to let me have your pictures back when I demanded them, but to put them where they so justly belonged, in the place of honor. But, as said before, when reading Cox's letter to Low, I fancied that I saw jealously between the lines, so in order to anticipate any trouble about money, I immediately telegraphed that I would gladly pay all expenses myself, and wrote Mr. Low that I was very much inclined to then withdraw the pictures, fearing some obstacle to their proper honor might be instigated by Cox. To this letter of mine, I received a letter from Low, telling me that I misjudged Cox, that Low should not have sent me Cox's letter, that everything was running smoothly and that a special meeting of the Society would be called at once to thank Mr. Whistler, to thank Mr. Freer, and to assure us both that the pictures should be hung as agreed.

In due time the letter of thanks came, containing the statement "that the pictures should be hung together in one of the most honorable positions in the galleries" which naturally, to my mind, confirmed the conversation had with Mr. Low about the center of the north or east walls, which are of course the places of honor, not only in the mind of the public, but in the mind of Mr. Low and the Board of Control and the Hanging Committee as well, all of which is so frankly admitted in the telegram of the Secretary of the Society to me, dated March 20th[15], reading: "an important position was reserved" and "there are only two more honorable places than this in the Gallery".

Please notice, however, that in the letter of the Society of March 24th, written in the evening and sent by special messenger at ten o'clock to my hotel, after the Editorial in the afternoon edition of the New York Sun[16] had defended my course, and explained the rights of lenders of invited pictures, the Society tries to imply that the Board of Control in telegraphing me, had no knowledge of Mr. Low's verbal promise, nor no intention to confirm the same. If I cared for a controversy or a fight through the Newspapers, it would be simple enough to convince the Public, by letting Mr. Low tell his side of the story and publishing the correspondence, but for such business I have neither time nor taste, and have advised silence on the part of Mr. Low. Why advertise the Society's Exhibition by carelessly using your name?

Copies of the correspondence between the Society and myself are enclosed herein, which will explain fully to you the circumstances of the withdrawal of your pictures. In order to give you all of the facts, it only remains for me to add that while in New York during last week, I refrained from talking with the Newspapers and the Members of the Society, excepting only Mr. Low, and its President, Mr. John La Farge[17], although a great many people attempted to interview me, or to drag me into the clutches of the Press. Mr. La Farge called upon me in person to deliver the letter of which I enclose a copy, but I was out at the time. He repeated his call, but again unfortunately I was out. Then I made an engagement and called upon him: He discussed the unfortunate affair with real personal feeling and regret. He is extremely sorry to lose the pictures for the Exhibition and particularly distressed at the thought that you may feel that an injustice has been done your work. He consented to my suggestion that his letter to me herewith enclosed, be sent to you, and he said that he felt it a duty to write to you personally, to explain the real feeling of highest respect entertained for you and your work by the Society of American Artists, as a body.

I advised him to do so, and you will hear directly from him by early mail. I would have written you earlier but for the fact that I wanted to give you the whole story complete in itself and the fullest knowledge could only be obtained by a personal visit to New York. I have cabled and written about the matter to Mr. Canfield, as progress was made, and he has of course, from time to time, kept you informed. In a cablegram received from Mr. Canfield some days ago, he said that both you and he fully approved of my action: For your joint support and approval, I am deeply grateful.

In caring for such of your work as has fallen into my fortunate hands, I have, and always shall, treat it to the fullest extent in the same dignified manner, that I believe you, yourself, would exercise, or expect others to exercise in your behalf. If, in the present instance, you should find, with the facts all before you, any omission or commission on my part, which you would have wished differently done, I beg you to tell me frankly for my future guidance.

I do hope that you are gaining health and strength daily and that you are enjoying life and your work as of old. I am very well, in a rush of business, and other affairs preparatory to beginning my summer tour, which is scheduled to start on April 14th, from New York, vis S. S. "Liguria" for Capri, after Capri, Spain, Paris and London. At the latter place I hope to see you and to find you in the fullest enjoyment of your old time strength, and interest in all things worth while.

Shall you be in Chelsea after June 15th? and if you are in the mood would you be willing to resume work on my portrait[18]?

With affectionate greetings to all,

[Charles L. Freer]

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  Charles Lang Freer
Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), industrialist, collector and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art [more].

2.  TLc
Published in Merrill, Linda, With Kindest Regards. The Correspondence of Charles Lang Freer and James McNeill Whistler, 1890-1903, Washington and London, 1995, no. 79, pp. 180-86.

3.  Rosalind Birnie Philip
Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), JW's sister-in-law [more].

4.  Canfield
Richard Albert Canfield (1855-1914), gambler [more].

5.  Society of American Artists
Twenty-fifth Annual Exhibition, Society of American Artists, New York, which opened on 27 March 1903.

6.  Will H. Low
Will Hicok Low (1853-1932), mural painter, designer and illustrator, and secretary of the Society of American Art [more]. See JW's letter to Low, [9 April 1903], #02650.

7.  Count Robert
Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (YMSM 398).

8.  Rosa Corder
Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder (YMSM 203), bought in February 1903 from Walford Graham Robertson (1867-1948), painter, designer and collector [more], by Richard Albert Canfield (1855-1914), gambler [more].

9.  Rawlinson
Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach (YMSM 119), formerly owned by William George Rawlinson (1840-1928), silk merchant, collector [more].

10.  Orchar
Nocturne: Grey and Silver - Chelsea Embankment, Winter (YMSM 205), formerly owned by James Guthrie Orchar (1825-1888), engineer and collector [more].

11.  Morris
Harrison Smith Morris (1856-1944), Directing Manager of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts [more]. The exhibition was the 72nd Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1903, to which Freer lent five works: Blue and Gold - The Rose Azalea (M.1392), Rose and Red: The Little Pink Cap (M.1277), Rose and Brown: La Cigale (YMSM 495), Rose and Gold: The Little Lady Sophie of Soho (YMSM 504) and Green and Silver: The Great Sea (YMSM 518).

12.  Sargent's portrait of Mr. Chase
J. S. Sargent, William Merritt Chase, N. A.(z364).

13.  Alexander's
John White Alexander (1856-1915), portrait painter and decorator [more]. Actually the place of honour on the north wall was given to, A. H. Thayer, Stevenson Memorial(z366).

14.  President Roosevelt
J. S. Sargent, Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt(z365), now in the White House, Washington.

15.  Kenyon Cox
Kenyon Cox (1856-1919), painter, illustrator and writer [more].

16.  New York Sun
'Mr. Freer, Mr. Will Low and the Society', New York Evening Sun, 24 March 1903 (FGA Whistler Scrapbook 1:3).

17.  John La Farge
John LaFarge or La Farge (1835-1910), painter and multi-media artist [more].

18.  portrait
Portrait of Charles L. Freer (YMSM 550).

19.  March 20th
A telegram from Henry Prellwitz to Freer was sent on to JW; Freer kept a copy (FGA Archives).