The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 'Black and White', Exhibition, Manchester, 1879
Record 1 of 2

System Number: 03712
Date: [2 February/August 1878?][1]
Author: W. Macdonald[2]
Place: Manchester
Recipient: JW
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler M46
Document Type: ALS

Mr J A McNeil [sic] Whistler

My Dear Sir

I have just obtained your address from the Catalogue of the Manchester picture Exhibition[3] now open in Mosley St where you have one picture

I once wrote to you with the general address of the Royal Academy[4] or London but that was returned & I have made no further attemp[t]

Well you will say what do you want with me - ?

I have for many years had a heart rending greivance [sic] against our bullying Art demagogue John Ruskin[5] & every now & then the effects of his insulting abuse onf my trade oppresses me & I have long nursed my wrath[6] to keep it warm[.] I want you to assist me in giving him a proper dressing

I think my attack coming from a worker would be acceptable in many influential quarters[.] [p. 2] Our local journals are not the proper channel[.] It must be some paper or magazine dealing more with art questions[.] Whether they agreed with me or not many would be well pleased to see him well wiped down - I have been told that it would be not only welcome but paid for. That however is secondary[.] The letter I am writing I will send to him if he takes no notice as is probable then I want you to see to its publication in some quarter which might compel him to notice it[.] If you approve of the style & mode of treatment - I enclose[7] you one as a specimen of former work but there was no room & less interest in that quarter -

I read with great interest & indignation his filthy & abusive insult[8] on yourself though I have heard it spoken of as a benefit to you[.] Still the bitter raskel [sic] meant mischief & he has too long escaped the hands of the - executioner - [p. 3] I can see by the old fellows head that he is as proud as lucifer and as stubborn & conceited a fanatic as Gen[era]l Booth[9] of the Salvation Army where he ought to be in my opinion - -

I enclose[10] you the proposed [opening?] of my letter to J. R.[.] I can make it shorter & stronger but I have so much to say that I branch off too much nevertheless I can pepper him as I have done as great men before - -

If you are at home & can spare time I shall expect an answer however brief in a few days

Meanwhile my Dear Sir
I subscribe myself yours
very truly

W Macdonald

[p. 4] P. S. Please return the 4 sheets[11] of manuscript as I have only that copy[.] transcribing is dry work & I never can copy the same thing twice without alterations which causes more transcribing & that is dry work - -

W M -

If you can furnish me with the proper adress [sic] I will be obliged of J. R. I mean -

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [2 February/August 1878?]
The letter must have been written after the publication of the enclosed letter, dated 1 February 1878 (see below).

2.  W. Macdonald
W. Macdonald, a Manchester house painter [more].

3.  Manchester picture Exhibition
There were several exhibitions in the Royal Manchester Institution on Mosley Street in 1878, including a Black and White show, a large loan Art Treasures Exhibition in aid of the building fund for Manchester School of Art, and the annual autumn exhibition ('Art in Manchester', Times, 26 September 1878, p. 4). The Corporation of Manchester took over the building and collections of the R. M. I. in 1882, as the basis for Manchester City Art Gallery.

4.  Royal Academy
This letter has not been located. Coincidentally, an envelope dated 21 September 1897 from Italy, addressed to JW at 'The Academy' was returned, to JW's delight, with the inscription 'Not known at the Royal Academy' (Pennell, Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, 'The Pennell Whistleriana in the Library of Congress,' The American Magazine of Art, vol. 12, no. 9, pp. 292-305, repr. f. p. 15; #13247).

5.  John Ruskin
John Ruskin (1819-1900), critic, social reformer and artist [more].

6.  nursed my wrath
Alluding to a line from the first stanza of Robert Burn's Tam O' Shanter: 'Gathering her brows like gathering storm, / Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.'

7.  enclose
He enclosed a copy of his letter ("True Art and False: Mr. Ruskin on Graining") to the editor of the Manchester City News, dated 1 February 1878, signed 'M.'

8.  insult
When JW exhibited Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (YMSM 170), and other paintings at the 1st Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1877, Ruskin accused him of 'throwing a pot of paint in the public's face' Ruskin, John, 'Letter the Seventy-ninth' Fors Clavigera, 2 July 1877, pp. 181-213. JW sued him for libel, and the case of Whistler v. Ruskin was heard at the Queen's Bench of the High Court on 25-26 November 1878.

9.  Booth
William Booth (1829-1912), founder of the Salvation Army, and its first 'General' [more].

10.  enclose
This draft is #03713.

11.  Please return the 4 sheets
Whistler did not return the sheets, but kept them (#03713).