The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: Spring Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1888
Record 5 of 6

System Number: 06069
Date: 27 November 1888
Author: John Dawson Watson[1]
Place: London
Recipient: JW
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler W66
Document Type: ALS

3, The Villas
Eaton Terrace
St John[s] Wood. N. W

Novr. 27. 1888

Dear Mr Whistler

I am well, and will come down to meet you tomorrow night. I am anxious to know if you can give me any particular role, because I am prepared to speak at length, and with such a solemn pretense as age and experience might give weight to. I was in the Cafe d'Le [sic] Europe on Saturday and met Edwin Ellis[2] - [p. 2] I give you a sketch of the conversation.

Ellis - Are you coming to the meeting on Wednesday?
Watson - I don't see why I shouldn't.
Ellis - What the Devil does Whistler mean by calling this meeting?
Watson - I don't know of any particular motive, I only think that it is quite natural that our President, before leaving the chair, should explain his relations with the Society, and might be listened to with a certain respect, because it appears to me, that in spite of all petty squabbles, that he has been (viewing him in [p. 3] the large) a benefactor to the Society - and in this light I regard him -
Ellis - Why did you resign with Whistler[3]?
Watson - Because I thought he was most disgracefully treated, and never in my life did I see such an Exh[ibitio]n of coarse insult and brutality as I saw that night -
Ellis (softening a little) [-] Well, I must say it was in bad taste, and therefore, as you said at the time, indecent - But Whistler is a man who will sacrifice everything for an epigram or a smart speech - He took me [p. 4] up to Leightons picture[4], and talking of the Society called it a "Sty".
Watson, Quite right -

And now, if I can meet you and your confreres anywhere before the meeting, I am your man.

Yours always

J. D. Watson

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1.  John Dawson Watson
John Dawson Watson (1832-1892), painter and illustrator [more].

2.  Edwin Ellis
Edwin Ellis (1841-1895), marine and landscape painter [more].

3.  resign with Whistler
JW was forced to resign as PRBA in June 1888 and a large number of artists resigned with him.

4.  Leightons picture
A portrait of a blonde girl, A Study (cat. no. 237) by Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), painter and sculptor [more], hung in the most prominent position in Spring Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1888, (Morning Post, 28 November 1888; St James's Gazette, 26 November 1888). He also exhibited three sketches of Rhodes (cat. nos. 536, 538, 540) and Sketch for the Daphnephoria (cat. no. 157). The story is told in the World: "Our James, with his merry men, put in an unexpected appearance the other night in the galleries of Suffolk Street, "to perceive the results of the 'effort in the other direction'," he said, as he joyously scanned the walls. An admiring group of Ancients were standing before the tiny Leighton in the place of honour in the large room. "Quite exquisite!" they cried. "A gem! - really a gem!" "Yes," said the ex-President, leaning forward with his dangerous smile of appreciation, "like a diamond in the sty!" (World, 28 November 1888; see also Menpes, Mortimer, Whistler as I Knew Him, London, 1904, p. 112).