Documents associated with: Winter Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1885-1886
Record 9 of 14
System Number: 09014
Recipient: Alexander Johnston Cassatt
Place: [Haverford, PA]
Repository: Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow
Call Number: GLAHA 46117, pp. 22-23
Document Type: ALd
My dear Mr Cassatt
I know it is not a striking likeness -
I am [ deeply to know?] this -
I do not delude myself in the least - and when I come over I will paint you another or two others with pleasure - Any thing in the world rather than that Mrs Cassatt should be obliged to put on her hat & costume and stand in a particular light in order that she may faintly resemble
my her unfortunate picture -
This now explains to you [p. 2] the long delay in sending what really you might have taken with you on the ship
at the time if Mrs Cassatt could only have [ rem'd?] remained a few days longer with at the time of painting -
There is no excuse for the imperfect masterpiece, but we did attempt rather an unwise thing when we undertook to paint and pack and stand and still strove (be ready) to start - in the steamer -
The letter refers to Arrangement in Black, No. 8: Portrait of Mrs Cassatt (YMSM 250), commissioned on 3 April 1883, exhibited at Winter Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1885-1886, and finally sent to the Cassatts in what JW considered an unfinished state in 1886 (see below). The letter was written in a sketchbook which contains other dateable references, including a letter from JW to H. Labouchère, 21 August 1886 (#09184; Sketchbook (M.1145), pp. 23-4).
2. Alexander Johnston Cassatt
Alexander Johnston Cassatt (1839-1906), engineer, collector [more]. His sister, Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926), painter and print-maker [more], suggested JW should paint her sister-in-law.
3. striking likeness
On 14 October 1883 Mary Cassatt wrote to her brother, 'I thought it a fine picture, the figure especially beautifully drawn. I don't think it by any means a striking likeness, the head inferior to the rest, the face has no animation but that I believe he does on purpose. He does not talk to the sitter, but sacrifices the head to the ensemble' but, she added, 'he would have liked a few more sittings and he felt as if he was working against time' (estate of Mrs John B. Thayer, referred to in Dorment, Richard, and Margaret F. MacDonald, James McNeill Whistler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 1994, cat. no. 129). The sitter thought it 'looked too much like her to be pleasant', and many years later she said that 'from something I said Whistler took it that I did not consider it a likeness, nor do I, but he replied "After all it's a Whistler" ' (Lois Cassatt to E. R. and J. Pennell, 10 June 1919, Library of Congress, PWC).