The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 3rd Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Città di Venezia,Venice 1899
Record 32 of 32

System Number: 00757
Date: 19 November 1901
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: John James Cowan[1]
Place: [Edinburgh]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler C258
Document Type: ALcS[2]

My dear Cowan -

What can you be thinking of, when you look upon your sending me the pictures[3] you had purchased, as a rare proof of devotion to me!? - "I wonder," you say, "if any other man would have sent them!!. - Why! who would not! Is it not the step of all others, that would be taken by the purchaser, in his own interest? -

Is there anything dangerous, reprehensible, or indeed unusual in it? - Why, good Heavens! what [p. 2] can all this mean! - Would you propose some league between the dealer & the collector, that should, in a stealthy way, permit the "Art Patron" to introduce into his Galleries, unguaranteed, doubtful, even spurious work, - works, in short, they fear should meet the painter's eye! - works that are sold in a corner, with anxious look & curious suggestion that it would be well the master should hear nothing of the transaction? -

So that you, my dear Cowan, might be comfortably adulterating your collection, undermining its reputation and lowering its standard, while attempting to elude the watchfulness of the only one who could save you! -

Is it possible that you could wish to possess a picture that the artist condemns? - A picture that you would fear to offer for his inspection? Do you then buy them not to show them? - to keep them hidden? -

And, tell me, has it not been your pride to send everywhere "The Piano,"[4] the "Ice Picture"[5].. & the rest? - And now would you be willing to keep, for fear of falling out with your furnisher, canvases that may not bear the light with the same arrogance of hall mark? -

You insist upon it that you are "the Ass," because you have submitted to me these last two purchases - Surely, Cowan, this is one of the few wise acts in the whole comedy? - As a business man, you know that it is a privilege - (which custom accompanies with a fee) - to obtain the guarantee of genuineness & "condition" of the works upon your walls, from the man who painted them - [p. 3] a guarantee which, when, in due course, you bring them to the market, you make much of, thereby enhancing the golden value of your "wares of first water," beside whose fair fame, nothing questionable shall find place! -

Why then do you resent my keeping your Galleries clean? -

As to Reid[6] - I am not really pursuing him - indeed the droll part of it is, that he is pursuing me[7]! - but, as far as you are concerned, your course is clear as it [is] easy & becoming - I have pointed it out to you, & for the life of me, I cannot see any other - for your own sake, for mine - and for that of Mr Reid of Glasgow -

Always, my dear Cowan

The McNeill -

8 Fitzroy Street

Have left the Hotel[8]

Nov. 19. 1901.

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  John James Cowan
John James Cowan (1846-1936), paper manufacturer and collector [more]. This is a reply to J. J. Cowan to JW, #00755. See also draft of this letter, #00756.

2.  ALcS
Written on narrow bordered mourning paper. This is presumably a copy of the final version of the letter sent; a draft is #00756.

3.  sending me the pictures
Alexander Reid (1854-1936), Glasgow dealer [more] seems to have received works stolen from JW's studio in Paris before July 1901 (see JW to J. J. Cowan, #00746). Cowan had purchased Alice Butt (2) (YMSM 438) and The Bridesmaid (YMSM 487) from him in April 1900 for £450 and £135 respectively but later became suspicious of the signature and consulted JW (see #00745, #00746). JW also believed that the pictures had been worked on by someone else and was upset at Cowan's reluctance to pursue Reid (J. J. Cowan to JW, #00752).

4.  The Piano,
At the Piano (YMSM 24). Cowan sold the picture in May 1899 to Edmund Francis Davis (b. 1845), attorney [more] (J. J. Cowan to R. Birnie Philip, #00733) for £2800 or possibly £3000.

5.  Ice Picture
The Thames in Ice (YMSM 36). The committee of the III Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Città di Venezia, asked to borrow JW's works owned by Cowan (see JW to J. J. Cowan, #00728, #00730). In the end, La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (YMSM 50) and The Thames in Ice (YMSM 36) were sent.

6.  Reid
Alexander Reid (1854-1936), Glasgow dealer [more]. When, in a previous letter (#00752), Cowan told JW that he did not wish to 'go for' Reid, JW accused Cowan of disloyalty: 'Are you really more ready to shelter this shifty foxy furtive dealer, than to resent the evil that is being worked upon the friend for whom you have always proposed to have the highest consideration and affectionate regard!' (JW to J. J. Cowan, #00754).

7.  me
Double underlined.

8.  Hotel
Tallant's Hotel.