The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: 5th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1871
Record 1 of 9

System Number: 08051
Date: [27/31 August 1871][1]
Author: JW
Place: London
Recipient: Frances Leyland[2]
Place: [Liverpool]
Repository: Library of Congress
Call Number: Manuscripts Division, Pennell Whistler Collection, PWC 2/16/2
Document Type: ALS

2 Lindsey Houses -

My dear Mrs. Leyland -

Though I might appear remiss in thanking you for the photographs you so kindly sent me, I am sure you will know that nothing but the bewilderments of work have prevented my writing instantly to tell you how delighted I was to see again the lovely Babs[3] - really that child is exasperatin[g]ly lovely! - and these pictures of hers are most charming - I have now arranged them all in the album and take a vast pleasure in turning them over and going from one[4] kind of beauty to another among "us children" -

What shall I tell you of this dreary waste they call London - You seem [p. 2] to have carried away with you not only the life and joy of the place but even the sun too - and why should n't you - it is your right! and as Mrs. Boehm[5] would say you can afford to! - With you has gone the "World"[6] and naturally the sun has gone after you and I suppose you have engaged him for your season at Speke[7]. - Freddie[8] wrote me a wonderful letter the other day and I must answer it tomorrow - tell him with love that he must not let his Uncle Tom[9] choke himself with Lone Jack tobacco in Wales! - There is nothing new here, and the Mother[10] and I lead the mildest life [p. 3] imaginable - Sutherland[11] has just been here and bought a picture[12] which happily for him and myself, has been painted since you all left and is finished - I am also at work finishing another[13] which I hope to complete in a week or ten days and bring with me to show you at Speke -

Freddie tells me that the Baby Dawson[14] is at Wallesy[15] and that she has been known to speak of me with indifference! say to her with my affection that I hope it is not again "broken off."[16] - Please tell Ada Jee[17] that I believe I caught sight of the reverend swell[18] the other day, walking along the Gloucester Road - he appeared to me downcast and from his get up evidently felt [p. 4] that all the "ladies" of his flock had left town! - My own billy cock hat flourishes too - sorrowfully - and the bloom of Queens Gate[19] has departed from me -

I fear my dear Mrs. Leyland that the pleasure of talking with you all again has led me unwarrantably into inflicting upon you a long and rambling scrawl - that will have fatigued you if you should wander through it.

My Mother sends her best love and with mine to the children[20] and kindest regards to yourself and Leyland[21] to whom by the way I have written also two awfully long letters[22]!

believe me very sincerely

J A McN Whistler.

This document is protected by copyright.


1.  [27/31 August 1871]
This letter may have been written soon after JW's two letters to Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more] on 23 and 27 August 1871 (#11867 and #11869). It was evidently written some time before the death of Ada Gee on 20 December 1871 (see note below).

2.  Frances Leyland
Frances Leyland (1836-1910), née Dawson [more].

3.  Babs
Elinor Leyland (1861-1952), later Mrs Speed [more].

4.  one
Inserted above line.

5.  Mrs Boehm
Fanny Louisa Boehm (1837-1890), née Boteler, wife of the sculptor [more].

6.  World
Most wealthy citizens left London during the summer months, but in fact August 1871 was unusually cold and cloudy (see The Times, 28 August 1871). JW's writing could perhaps be read here as 'Warld' but the connotations of this are not clear.

7.  Speke
Speke Hall, near Liverpool, home of the Leylands.

8.  Freddie
Frederick Dawson Leyland (b. 1856), son of F. R. Leyland [more]. His earliest surviving letter to JW is dated 17 November 1872 (#02602).

9.  Uncle Tom
Thomas Layland, a social acquaintance of JW, possibly an artist [more]?

10.  Mother
Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), née McNeill, JW's mother [more].

11.  Sutherland
Thomas Sutherland (1834-1922), Liberal MP, Chairman of the P. and O. line [more].

12.  picture
Sir T. Sutherland possibly owned Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay (YMSM 76). It was started in 1866 but may have been the 'Valparaiso' mentioned to A. Chapman on 22 June 1874 as still incomplete (#11251). It seems likely that Sutherland was also offered Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water (YMSM 179) which dates from about 1876-77. However, it is not certain that he actually bought either of them, and neither seems to fit the date of this letter. Two paintings completed in the summer of 1871 were Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea (YMSM 103) and Variations in Violet and Green (YMSM 104). Both were exhibited at the Dudley Gallery in November 1871, and the Nocturne was bought by W. C. Alexander. Variations in Violet and Green (YMSM 104)was bought at some time before 1886 by Sir Charles McLaren, but could previously have been owned by Sutherland. Unfortunately the date and history of several Thames paintings is not known for certain.

13.  another

14.  Baby Dawson
Elizabeth Dawson (b. 1850), sister of Frances Leyland, and (briefly) JW's fiancée [more].

15.  Wallesy
i.e. Wallasey.

16.  broken off
According to William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919), civil servant and critic [more], JW announced his engagement to Mrs Leyland's younger sister, Elizabeth Dawson, on or around 21 February 1872 (see Rossetti, William Michael, The Diary of W. M. Rossetti 1870-1873, ed. Odette Bornand, Oxford, 1977 [p. 166], p. 166). JW was aged thirty-eight and 'Lizzie' was twenty. However, the engagement was broken off several times, and finally ended in 1873 (see Merrill, Linda, The Peacock Room. A Cultural Biography, New Haven and London, 1998, pp. 135-6).

17.  Ada Jee
Ada Louisa Jee (1845-1871), only daughter of Audley Horace Jee [more]. She died at Speke Hall on 20 December 1871. On 24 December 1871, D. G. Rossetti wrote to Leyland: 'Just as I was writing this letter, Dr Whistler has come in and told me of the trouble you are all in with the sad incident of poor Miss Jee's death. I need not say how sorry I am to hear of it' (see Fenellosa, Ernest F., 'The Collection of Mr. Charles L. Freer,' Pacific Era, I, November 1907, pp. 57-66, p. 24, letter 31). Leyland replied: 'Poor Miss Jee's death has cast a sad gloom over the house and I should have been glad to run away for a day or two to town if I could have got away from business.' (26 December 1871, ibid., p. 25, letter 32).

18.  reverend swell
Unidentified: presumably the local minister.

19.  Queens Gate
The Leylands' London address was 23, Queen's Gate from 1869 until 1876.

20.  children
Frederick Dawson Leyland (b. 1856), son of F. R. Leyland [more], Fanny Leyland (1857-1880), later Mrs Stevenson-Hamilton [more], Florence Leyland (1859-1921), later Mrs Prinsep [more], and Elinor Leyland (1861-1952), later Mrs Speed [more].

21.  Leyland
Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), ship-owner and art collector [more].

22.  letters
This may refer to two letters JW wrote to Leyland on 23 and 27 August 1871 (#11867 and #11869).